Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St.

Louis, Missouri on April 4, 1928. Her older brother bailey nicknamed her 'Maya' derived from 'Mya Sister.' When Angelou was just three years old, and her brother four, her parents' marriage ended and she was sent alone on a trian to Stamps, Arkansas to live with her paternal grandmother. Four years later she returned to St. Louis to live with her Mother, and was raped by her mother's boyfriend, who was jailed for the crime, but only for a day. After being released he was murdered, and Angelou became mute for five years, believing her voice had the power to kill since she had told what he had done to her. During those five years not speaking Angelou developed an extraordinary memory, a keen ability to listen and observe the world, and a love for books and literature. At 14 she moved with her mother to California, and during WWII she attended the California Labor School. She also worked as the first black female streetcar driver in San Francisco. At the age of 17 she gave birth to her son, Guy Johnson. In 1951 she married a Greek electrician Tosh Angelos despite societal and familial disapproval of interracial relationships. After her marriage ended in 1954 she became a professional dancer, changing her name to Maya Angelou. She also toured Europe with a production of Porgy and Bess, picking up languages as she traveled. In 1957 she recorded her first album - Miss Calypso. Returning to America she became involved in the Civil Rights movement, becoming the Northern Coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, whose first President was Martin Luther King Jr. In the early sixties she moved to Africa for a number of years, working as an associate editor at a weekly English-language newspaper The Arab Observer, an administrator at the University of Ghana, a feature editor for the African Review and a freelance writer for the Ghanian Times, among other things. She returned to the US in 1965 after meeting Malcolm X, to help him build his civil rights organization, but he was assassinated shortly after. Angelou was devastated after Malcolm X's murder, and briefly moved with her brother in Hawaii to resume her singing career, but then moved to Los Angeles to write. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on Angelou's 40th birthday, April 4, 1968 and Angelou was again devastated by the murder of a friend and civil rights leader. She was encouraged by the James Baldwin out of her depression, and that year she wrote her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, an autobiography which was published in 1969, bringing her international recognition and acclaim. After the publication of her book Angelou continued to create in multiple different avenues: she wrote and composed for Roberta Flack, created movie scores, wrote articles, short stories, TV scripts, documentaries, autobiographies (7 total), poetry, and produced plays. She continued to act and won a Tony in 1973, and also appeared in the television mini-series Roots in 1977. In 1981 she became a full-time professor of American Studies at Wake University in Winston-Salem, NC, although she herself never earned a bachelor degree; she taught through 2011. In 1993 Angelou became only the second poet (the first was Robert Frost) to recite a poem at a Presidential inauguration when she recited "On the Pulse of the Morning" for Bill Clinton. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her book of poetry "Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie," and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2000, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, and awarded over fifty honorary degrees during her lifetime.

Books by Maya Angelou