Maya Angelou Will Finally Be Honored by the National Book Foundation

Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, will finally receive an honorary National Book Award this year.

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Maya Angelou will finally receive an honorary National Book Award this year.

Angelou, best known for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is, of course, universally beloved. But why has it taken quite so long for the foundation to recognize her formally? Not that being asked to recite one's poem at a presidential inauguration is any small honor, but still. She has been publishing for well over 40 years.

Whatever the reasons, the foundation is righting that wrong by awarding her an "honorary National Book Award for contributions to the literary community"—namely, the Literarian Award—this year. (The author E.L. Doctorow will additionally be honored for "contributions to American letters.") As the Associated Press notes, "it is the first major literary prize for the 85-year-old Angelou, who has been celebrated everywhere from the Grammy Awards to the White House." Again: what?

It's okay. Angelou doesn't care all that much about honors and titles and all that, and why would she? So she says:

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."

Sadly, though, her health is poor and she will only be able to make a brief appearance at the ceremony. If there is a time to recognize Angelou for a lifetime achievement, it is now.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.