Maya Angelou was not only a poet and author, but a civil rights leader and feminist icon. On Wednesday, Google honored what would have been her 90th birthday with an animated tribute that features her poem “Still I Rise.”
Stars like Oprah Winfrey, Alicia Keys, Laverne Cox, America Ferrera and Martina McBride contributed to the reading, as well as Angelou’s son Guy Johnson.
“Does my sassiness upset you?” reads Keys. “Why are you beset with gloom? ‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells pumping in my living room.”
In a statement about the project, Winfrey said, “Maya Angelou is not what she has done or written or spoken, it’s how she did it all. She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence, and a fiery, fierce grace and abounding love.”
Echoed Cox in her own statement, “Dr. Angelou’s work is filled with such incredible wisdom and spiritual teachings. It feels like the ultimate privilege to have the opportunity to speak her words. She is a national treasure we should always celebrate.”
The author and activist first gained national acclaim with her 1969 autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, making her the first African-American woman to write a nonfiction bestseller, according to Biography.com. But as the book reveals, Angelou’s success came out of intense hardship.
Born Marguerite Annie Johnson Angelou in 1928, she was sexually assaulted when she was just seven. In I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Angelou explores the way that reading and inner strength helped her overcome personal tragedy and racism.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you,” Angelou writes in her memoir.
The writer became known for her poetry and multiple memoirs.
According to her New York Times obituary, the single mother was also a magazine editor in Cairo, a streetcar conductor, a college professor and a stage actress who was nominated for a Tony. She was revered for exposing the beauty of the African-American oral tradition and her work in the civil rights movement.
Throughout her life Angelou won multiple awards and performed at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration. In 2010, President Obama presented her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She passed away four years later at the age of 86, according to the New York Times.
But she left behind a powerful legacy. First and foremost, Angelou is remembered for promoting love and understanding during times of political and racial upheaval.
“[My mother] saw one of our greatest challenges was learning to love ourselves, then having the courage and the wisdom to love others,” said her son, the poet Guy Johnson, in a Google statement. “She often said, ‘We don’t know how or why love occurs. Truthfully, we don’t know that even gravity isn’t a kind of love.’ She felt that love was one of the most important emotions and was an instrumental key to unlocking the inner doors of our ignorance and fear.”