Most know Maya Angelou, who passed away this morning at age 86, for classic, canonical poems like “Still I Rise.” And indeed, she leaves behind a broad and highly decorated body of poems—but also plays, personal autobiographies, children’s books and more. In fact, with a creative career that started 60-something years ago, it’s easy to reduce Angelou to a list of classroom-required reading.
But that would be a mistake. Angelou’s long life meant a long list of accomplishments and creative side projects that were undeniably cool. Check out some of her most amazing achievements beyond poetry.
1. Her Calypso Album
Angelou started her early creative career in the 1950s, moving to New York City to pursue dance, and even forming a short-lived project with choreographer Alvin Ailey. As a solo performer, though, she soon garnered renown for her calypso-flavored dance performances, which eventually lead to a full-on artist album titled Miss Calypso. Check out the song “Run Joe” from the album:
2. Her Inaugural Poem
Although she was never named a United States Poet Laureate—a huge injustice, we might add—Dr. Angelou delivered the inaugural poem at Bill Clinton's ceremony. She became the second poet to recite her work at such an event. The first to do so was Robert Frost, who read "The Gift Outright" at John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961.
You can see Dr. Angelou's delivery of the “On the Pulse of the Morning” below, which is made available courtesy of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library.
3. The Time She Made Tupac Cry
We know Tupac Shakur was a gangster until the bitter end, as proven by his apparent last words. But even Tupac couldn’t keep up his tough-as-nails exterior in the company of Angelou and her maternal energy. In the video below, Angelou describes the time she met Pac. “I didn’t know who he was,” she recalls of coming upon him while he was in the middle of a heated argument. “I said to him, ‘When was the last time anyone told you how important you are?’” Cue thug waterworks.
4. She Appeared on Sesame Street Multiple Times
Dr. Angelou was a frequent guest on PBS's Sesame Street in the 90s. In 1996, for example, she narrated a special called Elmo Saves Christmas. One of Angelou’s most famous appearances was during a 1993 episode where she sang “My Name,” a Sesame Street song from the 1970s about being proud of oneself. She also rapped about ‘M’ words while playing patty-cake with Elmo in a 2001 episode.
5. She Had a Film Career
Angelou has 15 acting credits on IMDB, including roles in the legendary 1977 TV mini-series Roots, a role in Poetic Justice (which starred Tupac, which, you know, she made him cry!), and even appeared on the reunion episode of Touched by an Angel, Angelou became the first woman of color to direct a major motion picture, Down in the Delta, which was released in 1998.
6. Her Weight Loss Cookbook
Angelou’s kitchen skills were legendary among those who knew her—so she published not one, but two well-received cookbooks. She was into health and moderation, though. So the second one, titled Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart, focused helpfully on healthy recipes and portion control.
7. Her Saturday Night Live Appearances
Okay, so she never technically appeared on Saturday Night Live, but she was the subject of two hilarious bits. The first starred then-cast member Tracy Morgan doing an Angelou impersonation and talking about her aforementioned lined of Hallmark cards.
Still, Morgan’s…let’s call it a tribute.. to Angelou doesn’t even begin to compare to Maya Rudolph’s amazing portrayal. In it, which you can see below, Rudolph channels the elder stateswoman to prank her fellow intellectual and literary cohorts.
Again, Dr. Angelou didn’t actually appear, but she had such a joie de vivre she probably would have said yes to an invitation to appear on the sketch show.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article claimed that Dr. Angelou recited Robert Frost's poem "The Gift Outright" at John F. Kennedy's inauguration. That poem was recited by Frost himself. We regret the error.
Arielle Castillo is Fusion's culture editor, reporting on arts, music, culture, and subcultures from the streets on up. She's also a connoisseur of weird Florida, weightlifting, and cats.
Fidel Martinez is an editor at Fusion.net. He's also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.