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PORTLAND – Acclaimed author, actress and poet, Maya Angelou had a long history with Oregon and Portland, which she once called one of her favorite cities.
Angelou was listed among the 20th Century’s most important authors by Writer’s Digest in 1999. Her diverse body of work and list of performances garnered her nominations for aGrammy, an Emmy and a Pulitzer Prize. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 and in 1993, became the first poet since Robert Frost to address the public at a Presidential Inauguration.
Angelou had long ties with Portland in the years following the 1970 autobiography, I know why the caged bird sings, rocketed her into the national spotlight.
Portland State University recognized Angelou’s genius early and in 1973 bestowed her with her very first honorary university degree, according to records kept by Howard University.
She made appearances in Portland throughout her literary career for book signings and readings, including recent events at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in 2003 and 2013.
In a 2012 interview with The Skanner newspaper, Angelou said Portland was one of her favorite cities. She had many friends in Oregon including Eugene-based artist Lynda Lanker.
Angelou wrote the afterward to Lanker’s acclaimed book, Tough by Nature: Portraits of Cowgirls and Ranch Women of the American West.Angelou was often regarded in high esteem and her name adorns an apartment building for low income residents near North Mississippi Avenue. The building was formerly a crime-ridden housing complex that was renovated and reopened by a non-profit in 1995. The building is now an island of afforablity in the trendy and rapidly gentrifying Boise Neighborhood.
Angelou spoke briefly at the dedication ceremony. According to The Oregonian, she went on to give a speech at Clark College in Vancouver Wash. There she spoke, her signature resonating wisdom, on the nature of self-betterment and charity.
“'I am so delighted to be a part of your belief in yourselves,” she said. ”Whatever you do, know you're doing it first for yourselves, for your own spirit, for your own health. And then, if it goes on, and somebody else is lifted up, then that's a blessing.”