Maya Angelou, born on April 4, 1928, was a phenomenon and a force to be reckoned with. She was amongst the best poets the world has experienced to date, a memoirist, and a civil rights activist. Over the last 50 years of her career, she wrote numerous books of poetry, seven autobiographies, and three books of essays. She is also attributed to a list of plays, movies, and television shows. She received several awards meriting her work and more than 50 honorary degrees. She rose to fame mostly because of her seven autobiographies. Particularly the first one was of note – “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” released in 1969. In that autobiography, she explains her childhood until the age of 17, it was the one that gave her global recognition and popularity. Her work is considered a defense of Black culture and is used in schools and universities worldwide. We are truly honored and humbled to celebrate her life today with you.
Marguerite Annie Johnson
April 4, 1928
May 28, 2014 (age 86)
Marguerite Annie Johnson, popularly known as Maya Angelou, was a worldwide sensation. Her work was acknowledged all over the world. Maya was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. She was born to her father, Bailey Johnson, who was a doorman and a navy dietitian. Her mother, Vivian Johnson was a nurse and card dealer. She got her name, Maya as a nickname from her brother taken from “My” or “Mya Sister.”
After their parents divorced, their father sent both of them to Stamps, Arkansas. They were sent alone by train and were to live with their grandmother, Annie Henderson. She did well financially despite the Great Depression and World War II effects on the economy. Four years later, their father returned them to their mother’s care and at the age of eight, a year later, Maya Angelou was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. She confided in her brother who told everyone in the family and the man, Freeman, was arrested. He was later released after a day but was allegedly immediately murdered by Angelou’s uncles. Angelou became mute for around five years because of this. She stated that she thought it was her voice that killed Freeman. She thought she could never talk again because her voice could kill someone. It was in the silence, however, that she fell in love with books and literature, cultivated her ability to listen and observe, and developed her extraordinary memory.
She went to Lafayette County Training School where her teacher, Mrs. Flowers, helped her speak again. She also introduced her to authors and Black female artists who would shape and influence Angelou’s career later on. She, afterward, attended the California Labor School. She became the first Black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco at just 16 years old and had other odd jobs to make ends meet. In 2014, she was awarded a lifetime achievement award from the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials as part of a session billed “Women Who Move the Nation.”
In 1968, she wrote her first of seven biographies, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and she published it the following year. This was what gave her worldwide popularity and recognition. Before this she was nationally recognized as an activist, fighting alongside Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. In 1993, she recited, “On The Pulse of Morning,” during Bill Clinton’s inauguration and this brought with it fame for her previous works and widened her appeal across all walks of life. The poem also won her a Grammy Award. In 1995, she delivered her “second public poem” dubbed, “A Brave and Startling Truth,” which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. She wrote numerous books of poetry, seven autobiographies, and three books of essays. She was also attributed to a list of plays, movies, and television shows. Her work is considered a defense of Black culture and is used in schools and universities worldwide.
She becomes close friends with Malcolm X and returns to the United States to help him build a new civil rights organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
After her dinner inspiration and the challenge from Robert Loomis, she writes the first of seven autobiographies, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and publishes it.
“Georgia” is filmed and produced in Sweden and becomes the first-ever produced screenplay by a Black woman.
She plays a supporting role in the miniseries “Roots” and is awarded many awards during the same period, including more than 30 honorary degrees.
Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem names her their first professor of American Studies.
At the age of 85, she finally publishes the seventh and last of her autobiography series dubbed, “Mom & Me & Mom” which brings understanding to her relationship with her mother.
Why We Love Maya Angelou
She was a civil rights activist
She was considered the spokesperson for the Black community, especially Black women. She used her works to talk about the suffering of the Black community and ways things could be better. Her work was considered a defense of Black culture. Her affiliations with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. also proved her intent and active participation in the equal rights progress.
She was open and honest
In her seven autobiographies, she candidly talks about her life experiences. Whether good or bad, she shares all of it making her extremely relatable. So many people found strength in their struggles just by Maya Angelou sharing what she went through and how she overcame it.
She was extremely creative
The narration in her autobiographies is captivating and very witty. Similarly, her poems are very witty and well thought through. She also was involved in numerous plays, movies, and television shows. She was also in several music projects. She was artistic and smart, and it was reflected in her work.
5 Surprising Facts
She wrote two cookbooks
She authored the two cookbooks namely, “Great Food” and “All Day Long” and said she believed people would eat better if they ate what they wanted.
She spoke six languages
When she went to Europe, she got the opportunity to listen to other languages and paid close attention, and eventually, she learned French, Spanish, Hebrew, Italian, and Fante.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s death
Her close friend and confidant, Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated on her 40th birthday.
Rapper Tupac’s mother wrote to her
Afeni Shakur, rapper Tupac’s mother, wrote to her expressing her gratitude for the advice Maya Angelou had given to her son.
She always wrote in hotel rooms
For concentration purposes, Angelou always did her creative writing in hotel rooms, and she would have the room service remove all the decorations and remove distractions.
Maya Angelou FAQs
Did Maya Angelou win a Nobel Prize?
Maya Angelou received many awards for her writing, but she was not the recipient of a Nobel Prize.
Did Maya Angelou have kids?
In 1944, a 16-year-old Angelou gave birth to a son, Guy (a short-lived high school relationship led to the pregnancy). After giving birth, she worked several jobs to support herself and her child. A poet himself, Angelou’s son now goes by the name Guy Johnson.
How many times did Maya Angelou marry?
Angelou married three times in her life. The first was to Greek carpenter, Tosh Angelos (1949 to 1952), the second to South African activist Vusumzi L. Make (1960 to 1963), and the third to carpenter Paul du Feu (1973 to 1980). She often denied being married to Make.
Maya Angelou’s birthday dates