Maya Angelou will receive book award


Poet and author Maya Angelou will be honored later this year with the National Book Award.

Published: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 3:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 3:32 p.m.

The book world is finally honoring Maya Angelou.

The poet and author of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" will be this year's recipient of the Literarian Award, an honorary National Book Award for contributions to the literary community, the National Book Foundation announced last Thursday. It is the first major literary prize for the 85-year-old Angelou. She has received three Grammys for best spoken word album, a National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor.

Speaking by telephone last Thursday, Angelou said she couldn't wait to be in the same room as "some very big names in the literary world" and that the Literarian prize made her feel that she was "picking in high cotton."

"Dr. Angelou's body of work transcends the words on the page," the book foundation's executive director, Harold Augenbraum, said in a statement. "She has been on the front lines of history and the fight for social justice and decade after decade remains a symbol of the redemptive power of literature in the contemporary world."

Angelou, besides being a dancer, actress, filmmaker, singer and activist, has made historic contributions to reading and writing. "Caged Bird" is among the most widely read and widely taught memoirs of the past half-century, memorably documenting her rise from the rural, segregated South.

"What I have always wanted is to be of use," Angelou said. "I will not be abused. I will not be misused — not willingly."

But she has never won such top literary prizes as the Pulitzer or PEN/Faulkner and has never even been a nominee for a National Book Award, although she did serve with historians Robert Caro and Robert K. Massie as a judge in 1978 on the committee for best biography/autobiography.

Angelou said she never worried about literary honors and that she always felt grateful for the winners.

"I know that makes me sound like all goody two-shoes," she said. "But only one name can be chosen for a prize. ... And, here now, I'm getting an award from the National Book Foundation for lifetime achievement of service to the community! It's a blessing. It's incredible."

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