MAYA ANGELOU BIOGRAPHY

Synopsis

Born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou is known for her 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,
which made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an
African-American woman. In 1971, Angelou published the Pulitzer
Prize-nominated poetry collection Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die.
She later wrote the poem “On the Pulse of Morning”—one of her most
famous works—which she recited at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration
in 1993. Angelou has received several honors throughout her career,
including two NAACP Image Awards in the outstanding literary work
(nonfiction) category, in 2005 and 2009.


Early YearsMulti-talented
barely seems to cover the depth and breadth of Maya Angelou’s
accomplishments. She is an author, actress, screenwriter, dancer and
poet. Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, Angelou had a difficult childhood.
Her parents split up when she was very young, and she and her older
brother, Bailey, were sent to live with their father’s mother, Anne
Henderson, in Stamps, Arkansas.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

As an African American, Angelou
experienced firsthand racial prejudices and discrimination in Arkansas.
She also suffered at the hands of a family associate around the age of
7: During a visit with her mother, Angelou was raped by her mother’s
boyfriend. Then, as vengeance for the sexual assault, Angelou’s uncles
killed the boyfriend. So traumatized by the experience, Angelou stopped
talking. She returned to Arkansas and spent years as a virtual mute.
During
World War II, Angelou moved to San Francisco, California, where she won
a scholarship to study dance and acting at the California Labor School.
Also during this time, Angelou became the first black female cable car
conductor—a job she held only briefly, in San Francisco.
In 1944,
a 16-year-old Angelou gave birth to a son, Guy (a short-lived high
school relationship had led to the pregnancy), thereafter working a
number of jobs to support herself and her child. In 1952, the future
literary icon wed Anastasios Angelopulos, a Greek sailor from whom she
took her professional name—a blend of her childhood nickname, “Maya,”
and a shortened version of his surname.

Career Beginnings

In the mid-1950s, Angelou’s career as a performer began to take off. She landed a role in a touring production of Porgy and Bess, later appearing in the off-Broadway production Calypso Heat Wave (1957) and releasing her first album, Miss Calypso (1957). A member of the Harlem Writers Guild and a civil rights activist, Angelou organized and starred in the musical revue Cabaret for Freedom as a benefit for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, also serving as the SCLC’s northern coordinator.
In 1961, Angelou appeared in an off-Broadway production of Jean Genet’s The Blacks
with James Earl Jones, Lou Gossett Jr. and Cicely Tyson. While the play
earned strong reviews, Angelou moved on to other pursuits, spending
much of the 1960s abroad; she first lived in Egypt and then in Ghana,
working as an editor and a freelance writer. Angelou also held a
position at the University of Ghana for a time.
After returning
to the United States, Angelou was urged by friend and fellow writer
James Baldwin to write about her life experiences. Her efforts resulted
in the enormously successful 1969 memoir about her childhood and young
adult years, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made
literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an
African-American woman. The poignant work also made Angelou an
international star.
Since publishing Caged Bird, Angelou has continued to break new ground—not just artistically, but educationally and socially. She wrote the drama Georgia, Georgia
in 1972—becoming the first African-American woman to have her
screenplay produced—and went on to earn a Tony Award nomination for her
role in the play Look Away (1973) and an Emmy Award nomination for her work on the television miniseries Roots (1977), among other honors.

Later Successes

Angelou has written several autobiographies throughout her career, including All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986) and A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002), but 1969’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
continues to be regarded as her most popular autobiographical work. She
has also published several collections of poetry, including Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die (1971), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

One
of Angelou’s most famous works is the poem “On the Pulse of Morning,”
which she wrote especially for and recited at President Bill Clinton’s
inaugural ceremony in January 1993—marking the first inaugural
recitation since 1961, when Robert Frost delivered his poem “The Gift
Outright” at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Angelou went on
to win a Grammy Award (best spoken word album) for the audio version of
the poem.
In 1995, Angelou was lauded for remaining on The New York Times‘ paperback nonfiction best-seller list for two years—the longest-running record in the chart’s history.
Seeking new creative challenges, Angelou made her directorial debut in 1998 with Down in the Delta, starring Alfre Woodard. She has also written a number of inspirational works, from the essay collection Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1994) to her advice for young women in Letter to My Daughter (2008). Interested in health, Angelou has even published cookbooks, including Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories With Recipes (2005) and Great Food, All Day Long (2010).
Angelou’s
career has seen numerous accolades, including the Chicago International
Film Festival’s 1998 Audience Choice Award and a nod from the Acapulco
Black Film Festival in 1999 for Down in the Delta; and two NAACP Image Awards in the outstanding literary work (nonfiction) category, for her 2005 cookbook and 2008’s Letter to My Daughter.

Personal Life

Martin
Luther King Jr., a close friend of Angelou’s, was assassinated on her
birthday (April 4) in 1968. Angelou stopped celebrating her birthday for
years afterward, and sent flowers to King’s widow, Coretta Scott King,
for more than 30 years, until Coretta’s death in 2006.

Maya Angelou, Coretta Scott King

Maya Angelou with Coretta Scott King in New York City, 2002. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)

Angelou was good friends with TV personality Oprah Winfrey,
who has organized several birthday celebrations for the award-winning
author, including a week-long cruise for her 70th birthday in 1998.
After
experiencing health issues for a number of years, Maya Angelou died on
May 28, 2014, at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The news of
her passing spread quickly with many people taking to social media to
mourn and remember Angelou. Singer Mary J. Blige and politician Cory
Booker were among those who tweeted their favorite quotes by her in
tribute. President Barack Obama also issued a statement about Angelou,
calling her “a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal
woman.” Angelou “had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s
children; that we all have something to offer,” he wrote.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

If You Enjoy Our Updates Please Make A Donation To Help Keep Our Site Going

You might also like

Comments