*Poet and author Maya Angelou has been announced as this year’s recipient of the Literarian Award, an honorary National Book Award for contributions to the literary community.
Believe it or not, it’s the first major literary prize for the 85-year-old Angelou, who has been celebrated everywhere from the Grammy Awards to the White House. 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.
“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. Her book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is among the most widely read and widely taught memoirs of the past half-century, memorably documenting her rise from the rural, segregated South to international fame. Her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning,” which she recited in 1993 at President Bill Clinton’s first inaugural, quickly sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
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.
A long list of nominees in the four competitive categories for the National Book Awards, which the Book Foundation presents, will be announced later this month. Angelou, whose primary residence is in North Carolina, has been in frail health and is expected to only make a brief appearance at the awards dinner and ceremony in November.