TIME obituary

Maya Angelou: A Hymn to Human Endurance

Maya Angelou in 1996.
Maya Angelou in 1996. Chuck Burton—AP

Remembering a life of relentless creativity.

When Maya Angelou was 16 she became not only the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco but the first woman conductor. By the time she was 40 she had also been, in no particular order, a cook, a waitress, a madam, a prostitute, a dancer, an actress, a playwright, an editor at an English-language newspaper in Egypt, and a Calypso singer (her one album is entitled “Miss Calypso.”) It wasn’t until 1970, when she was 41, that she became an author: her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, told the story of her life up to the age of 17. That remarkable life story ended today at the age of 86.

In her last years Angelou’s work became associated with a certain easy, commercial sentimentality—she loaned her name to a line of Hallmark cards, for example—but there was nothing easy about her beginnings. She was born Marguerite Johnson in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents divorced when she was 3. When she was 7 her mother’s boyfriend raped her. She testified against him in court, but before he could be sentenced he was found beaten to death in an alley. Angelou’s response to the trauma was to become virtually mute – she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, speak in public for the next 5 years. She often cited this silent period as a time when she became intimately aware of the written word.

Angelou eventually regained her voice, but her life remained chaotic. She became a mother at 17, immediately after graduating high school. She bounced from city to city, job to job and spouse to spouse (she picked up the name Angelou from one of her husbands; “Maya” was her brother’s nickname for her). She spent years living in Egypt and then in Ghana. By the time she was 40 her life story and her distinctive, charismatic way with words had her friends—among them James Baldwin—begging her to write it all down. She finally did.

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Angelou describes herself as “a too-big Negro girl, with nappy black hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number-two pencil.” Although generations of high school students have been assigned it, the book’s unsparing account of black life in the South during the Depression, and of her sexual abuse, is not easy reading. It is Angelou’s tough, funny, lyrical voice that transforms her story from a litany of isolation and suffering into a hymn of glorious human endurance. That extraordinary voice—dense, idiosyncratic, hilarious, alive—brought novelistic techniques to the task of telling a life story, and its influence on later generations of memoirists, from Maxine Hong Kingston to Elizabeth Gilbert, is incalculable. (Angelou also mixed fact and fiction, unapologetically, long before James Frey.) The themes she expounded in Caged Bird, of suffering and self-reliance, would be braided through the rest of her long life’s work. “All my work, my life, everything is about survival,” Angelou said. “All my work is meant to say, ‘You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.’ In fact, the encountering may be the very experience which creates the vitality and the power to endure.”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was nominated for a National Book Award, and it was followed by a torrent of creative output in every possible medium. Angelou wrote five more volumes of autobiography and six books of poetry. She was nominated for an Emmy for playing Kunta Kinte’s grandmother in Roots. She wrote children’s books and essays and the lyrics to a musical, King. She acted in movies and even directed one, Down in the Delta. She took to the national stage in 1993 when she read a poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” at President Clinton’s inauguration.

Angelou’s energy was enormous and her activity incessant. Though her education stopped after high school, she held a lifetime professorship at Wake Forest and collected honorary degrees from 50 more colleges and universities. She lectured 80 times a year. From 1981 on she lived in a brick house in Winston-Salem; despite her various marriages she lived alone, and her first child was also her last. A commanding figure at 6 ft. tall, she rose at 4 or 5 every morning and went to a bare room at a nearby motel to work, alone with a stack of legal pads, a Bible, a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a bottle of sherry.

Her relentless creativity didn’t balk at her own obituary, and as usual she put it better than anyone else could have. “What I would really like said about me is that I dared to love,” Angelou told an interviewer in 1985. “By love I mean that condition in the human spirit so profound it encourages us to develop courage and build bridges, and then to trust those bridges and cross the bridges in attempts to reach other human beings.”

TIME obituary

Maya Angelou Dead at 86

The celebrated poet, author and civil rights activist passed away on Wednesday in her North Carolina home

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Maya Angelou, the acclaimed poet, author and civil rights icon who wrote lyrically of her childhood in the Jim Crow south, died Wednesday morning. She was 86, and her death was confirmed by a family representative and by officials at the Winston-Salem mayor’s office in North Carolina, where she had been living.

Angelou had been honored with more than 50 awards, including the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for her collected works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction, most notably her groundbreaking memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made history as one of the first nonfiction best-sellers by an African-American woman.

President Barack Obama called her “one of the brightest lights of our time—a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman.”

“With a kind word and a strong embrace, she had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer,” Obama said in a statement. “And while Maya’s day may be done, we take comfort in knowing that her song will continue, ‘flung up to heaven’— and we celebrate the dawn that Maya Angelou helped bring.”

Angelou had recently cancelled a scheduled appearance at the 2014 MLB Beacon Award Luncheon, where she was to be honored with the Beacon of Life Award, due to health problems.

“Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension,” a family representative posted on her Facebook page. “She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.”

Not one to rest on her laurels, Angelou told TIME in 2013 that she was working on her 32nd book, one that she said was, “asking me to be better than I’ve ever been.”

Born on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Mo., Angelou lived an itinerant childhood traveling between her hometown and Stamps, Ariz., where she witnessed racial segregation first-hand, an experience that would later inform some of the more searing chapters of her books.

At age seven, Angelou testified in court against her mother’s boyfriend, who stood accused of raping her mother. Angelou was stunned into silence when she witnessed the man chased down by a mob and beaten to death.

“My seven-and-a-half-year-old logic deduced that my voice had killed him, so I stopped speaking for almost six years,” she said.

She emerged from the experience with a voice that was both lyrical and searing in its portrayal of race relations in America and always capable of grabbing headlines. When George Zimmerman was acquitted for the shooting of an unarmed young black teenager, Trayvon Martin, Angelou told TIME: “We are all harmed. We are all belittled, and we give to the rest of the world more ammunition to sneer at us.”

Angelou’s career spanned the globe, including stints as an editor in Egypt a and a music and drama school teacher in Ghana. Her career also extended beyond the page to the film set, the stage and the lectern. As a civil rights activist, she became friends with both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Her last tweet, posted on May 23, read:

TIME movies

Alien Director Ridley Scott Remembers H.R. Giger: “He Was a True Original”

The pair collaborated on the 1979 film, for which Giger won an Academy Award for visual effects

H.R. Giger, the set designer largely responsible for the iconic visual effects of the 1979 film Alien, died on Monday at the age of 74. In the wake of his passing, Alien director Ridley Scott issued this statement to TIME, recalling their collaboration on the at Shepperton Studios in London:

“I am very saddened to hear of Giger’s passing. I think back on how committed and passionate he was, and then consequently, all the security we built up around his ‘lock up’ studios at Shepperton. I was the only one allowed the honor of going in, and I absolutely enjoyed every hour I spent with him there. He was a real artist and great eccentric, a true original, but above all, he was a really nice man. He will be missed.”

TIME remembrance

H.R. Giger, Creator Of The Perfect Movie Monster, Dead at 74

H. R. Giger
Visual artist H. R. Giger taking off face mask. Dana Frank—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

The Swiss artist created the designs for the hissing, acid-blooded xenomorph in Ridley Scott's haunting "Alien"

Swiss artist H.R. Giger, who haunted movie goers by creating Ridley Scott’s Alien, died Monday at the age of 74. A representative from his museum told the Associated Pressthat he died from injuries sustained from a fall.

Giger was born in Chur, Switzerland in 1940 and became famous for creating nightmarish landscapes and surreal creatures in Hollywood science fiction films. The sculptor, artist, and set designer began working in movies in 1975 on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s uncompleted Dune remake, but came to prominence with the creation of the nightmarish creature in Alien (1979).Ridley Scott was inspired by Giger’s book Necronomicon and hired the artist to work on the film. He later went on to work on films including Poltergeist II and Species.

Here Giger is with his alien progeny:

He won an Academy Award for Best Achievement for Visual Effects for Alien and was named into the Science Fiction and Fantasy hall of Fame in 2013:

FARRAH FAWCETT AND HAROLD RUSSELL WITH BEST VISUAL EFFECTS WINNERS
PRESENTERS FARRAH FAWCETT AND HAROLD RUSSELL (R) WITH BEST VISUAL EFFECTS OSCAR WINNERS (2ND FROM L-R): H.R. GIGER, CARLO RAMBALDI, BRIAN JOHNSON, NICK ALLDER, DENYS AYLING ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

Giger’s work lived beyond the screen:

Switzerland Obit Giger
Swiss artist H.R. Giger poses with two of his works at the art museum in Chur, Switzerland. AP

He even created monstrous microphone stands for the band Korn:

Korn Perform in Manchester
Korn in Manchester, England. Shirlaine Forrest—Getty Images

Details on survivors and funeral arrangements haven’t yet been released.

[AP]

TIME obituary

Actor Bob Hoskins Dies of Pneumonia Aged 71

Here's a video look at some of the British actor's greatest roles, from Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Long Good Friday, to Mona Lisa, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in 1987. Hoskins died at age 71

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The actor Bob Hoskins has died from pneumonia at the age of 71, his publicist confirmed on Wednesday.

The British actor was best known for his roles in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa, for which he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar in 1987. Hoskins was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011 and it wasn’t long before he announced his retirement from acting in 2012. His last role was in Snow White and the Huntsman in 2012.

“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Bob,” his wife Linda and their children Alex, Sarah, Rosa and Jack said in a statement, after the actor passed away on Tuesday night. “Bob died peacefully at hospital last night surrounded by family, following a bout of pneumonia. We ask that you respect our privacy during this time and thank you for your messages of love and support.”

[BBC]

 

TIME Boxing

Boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter Dies at 76

Rubin Hurricane Carter
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, left, knocks out Italian boxer Fabio Bettini in the 10th and last round of their fight at the Falais Des Sports in Paris, Feb. 23, 1965. AP

Boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who attracted attention for fighting a wrongful murder conviction that sent him to prison for 19 years, was 76

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the famous boxer who served 19 years in prison before his exoneration after being wrongfully convicted of murder, died at home Sunday at age 76.

Carter’s friend and former co-defendant John Artis confirmed the news to the Associated Press. Carter died in his sleep after a battle with prostate cancer.

Carter was twice convicted of shooting three people in a Paterson, N.J., bar in 1966, two years after losing boxing’s middleweight championship. Prosecutorial misconduct involving racial bias and withheld evidence led both verdicts to be overturned in 1985.

Carter’s quest to clear his name attracted international attention. Amnesty International called him a “prisoner of conscience,” and the case inspired Bob Dylan to write the protest song “Hurricane.” The story of Carter’s life was turned into a Hollywood film, The Hurricane, in 1999, starring Denzel Washington.

[AP]

TIME obituary

The Miraculous Life of Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Hamilton—AP

The Colombian author's book One Hundred Years of Solitude established him as the defining member of a movement known as magic realism. A Nobel laureate, García Márquez died on April 17 having inspired an entire generation of Latin literature

When Gabriel García Márquez was born, in 1927, in the sleepy little town of Aracataca, not far from Colombia’s Caribbean coast, there were certain established fixities in the world of letters. The centers of gravity were Europe and North America, with a few auxiliary poles in Wellington, perhaps, or Kolkata. The novel, just beginning to be shaken up by Joyce and Woolf, told mainly of carriages moving under birch trees and conversations on rainy boulevards. Its characters, as often as not, were the people you might meet at dinner parties thrown for Count Tolstoy or Marcel Proust.

By the time García Márquez died at 87 on April 17, all that had changed, and largely because of him. A new continent had been discovered, so it seemed, rich with tamarind trees and “pickled iguana,” and folk cultures everywhere had an epic voice. Villagers could be imagined seeking daguerreotypes of God, and men arriving on doorsteps amid a halo of yellow butterflies. Macondo, a never-never town of almond trees and “banana wars” (a lot like Aracataca) had become as much a part of the reader’s neighborhood as Yoknapatawpha County or St. Petersburg.

The story behind this was, of course, half-miraculous. The eldest of 11 children, “Gabo,” as he was universally called, was born to a telegraph operator and a colonel’s daughter. When his parents moved to another city in search of work, he was left behind, a tropical Pip, to spend his early years with relatives. From his grandfather, he heard tales of fatal duels and his country’s unending civil wars; from his aunts and grandmother, he absorbed all the spells and spirits sovereign in a world in which Arab and Indian and African cultures mixed. Scarcely was he out of his teens than the boy was publishing short stories in a newspaper, while studying law with a view to help the disenfranchised. The newspaper for which he also wrote columns was called — too perfectly — El Universal.

One day, after 18 months of continuous writing, he completed a book, his fifth, so large that his wife Mercedes had to pawn her hair dryer and an electric heater to pay for postage to send it to the publisher. Cien Años de Soledad was published in 1967 (such was the interest in Latin writing then that it did not even make it into English till three years later), and Pablo Neruda, South America’s reigning Nobel laureate, pronounced it “perhaps the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since the Don Quixote of Cervantes.” He could as easily have called it a narrative Alhambra, a palace in the Spanish tradition but fluent with foreign shapes and dizzy curlicues amid the water and the orange trees.

One Hundred Years of Solitude promptly established García Márquez as the defining member of what was called the boom in Latin American writing and a movement known as magic realism; yet, really, he was throwing open the gates for writers from forgotten everywheres — you can see his influence in India’s Salman Rushdie, in Nigeria’s Ben Okri, even in Murray Bail from Australia.

He was, essentially, a trafficker in wonder. “Incredible things are happening in the world,” says a sometime alchemist in the first chapter of One Hundred Years of Solitude, as he sees a gypsy’s dentures; García Márquez’s realization was that the world of the alchemist, the dew still on it, could be equally incredible to the denture maker. He spun out his tales of everyday miracles with such exuberance that 30 million copies of the book were not just bought around the world, but read.

Not one to stay put, he followed that imaginative dawn with The Autumn of the Patriarch, an unflinchingly political novel that consisted of just six paragraphs, each 30 pages or more in length, and his tales of unexpected innocence were forever intertwined with more hardheaded stories of the solitude that comes with power. Realistic enough to be a true romantic, he treated dreams and revolutions with equal weight: if his fabulous flights were always, he insisted, just the documentary work of a reporter with an eye for marvels, his nonfiction accounts of corruption such as News of a Kidnapping featured secret messages transmitted on TV programs and kidnappers offering talismans to their hostages. A friend to Presidents as well as revolutionaries, García Márquez never abandoned the public world: even in his 70s, 17 years after winning the Nobel Prize, the most famous man in Colombia was writing articles like a cub reporter.

Though García Márquez lived in Paris, Mexico City, Havana and Barcelona, he was proudly claimed by Colombia — by all South America — as one who had taken an area too often associated with murders and drugs, and infused it with an immortal light: a literary Columbus discovering a New World that would soon belong to us all. When he fell ill, therefore, in the summer of 1999, much of the continent seemed to hold its breath, urging “el maestro” back to health. And when he died on Thursday in his home in Mexico City, it did not seem impossible that a man could open his mouth and songbirds would fly out.

Pico Iyer has written nonfiction books on globalism, Japan, the 14th Dalai Lama and forgotten places, and novels on revolutionary Cuba and Islamic mysticism. He regularly writes on global culture and the news for TIME, on literature for the New York Review of Books and for magazines around the world.

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