Maya Angelou paved the way for many of today’s black poets. She is famous for her poems and series of autobiographies. Angelou has had an interesting life filled with many accomplishments. Maya Angelou was born as Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. (Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd Ed. ) Her parents divorced when she was 3, she then lived with her mother. (Shaw, Taylor) At age 8 her mother’s boyfriend, Mr. Freeman, raped her. Angelou hid her dirty underwear under the couch, where her mother found it and discovered she had been raped. Mr. Freeman was convicted and sent to jail.
When he was released he was beaten to death. (Cuffie, Terrasita) Angelou thought it was her fault that he was killed, so she didn’t speak to anyone except her brother for 6 long years. (Smelstor, Bruce) Angelou and her brother, Bailey, then moved to Stamps, Arkansas to be raised by their grandmother. She was forced to accept the ways of the Deep South. Her grandmother owned a general store and she helped Angelou develop confidence. (Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd Ed. ) After 8th grade Angelou moved back to California to live with her mother. She was a great student and graduated high school with honors. Smelstor, Bruce) Just before high school graduation, Angelou began to worry about her lack of femininity. She didn’t have as many curves as most 16 year-old girls. She worried that she might be a lesbian. To prove herself wrong she seduced her neighbor boy and got pregnant.
After she gave birth to a son, Guy Bailey Johnson, she took him and moved to San Francisco. (Ball, Jane) In San Francisco she took many different jobs to support her son. It was difficult being a single mom. During that time she became the first female streetcar conductor in San Francisco. (Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd Ed. In 1951 she married Tosh Angelos, but the marriage soon ended in divorce. She took odd jobs as a prostitute, dancer, and singer to support her son. (Shaw, Taylor) Angelou began to pursue a career in theatre. (Taylor, Judith) She changed her name to Maya Angelou after her first husband’s last name. Angelou loved to dance; she studied modern dance with Martha Graham, and danced on live television with Alvin Ailey. (Shaw, Taylor) In 1955 she began to sing and dance on tour with the play “Porgy and Bess” in Europe. After the tour with “Porgy and Bess” ended she recorded an album, “Miss
Calypso” in 1957. She wrote many songs for the album and wanted to continue to improve her skills as a writer. She moved to New York in 1958, where she joined the Harlem Writers Guild and acted in The Blacks. She then wrote and performed in Cabaret for Freedom with the actor Godfrey Cambridge. In 1961 Maya Angelou and fiance, Vas Make, moved to Cairo where she was the associate editor of The Arab Observer. After the relationship ended she discovered that writing was her passion. (Shaw, Taylor) She was the feature editor of “African Review” and worked for The Ghanaian Times in 1964-1966.
She then worked as the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Angelou met Malcolm X in 1964, and she returned to the U. S. to work him, but he was assassinated just after she started. With the help of her friend James Baldwin in 1970, Maya Angelou published her best selling and very personal autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. (Shaw, Taylor) She discusses the early 1930s-1940s and talks about what it was like to live in the black community in Arkansas, St. Louis, and wartime California. She achieved immediate success after writing I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She was sought after by many who wanted her as a teacher and lecturer.
She wrote and composed the movie Georgia, Georgia in 1972, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Angelou has received numerous awards for her works; including Langston Hughes Medal, 1991, Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Association National Award, 1996, Mother Teresa Award, 2006, and 3 Grammy Awards. (Ball, Jane) Throughout the 1970s she continued writing autobiographies and poems. Many of her poems reveal the day to day battles of the working poor, those who are ready and willing, but are unable to find jobs that pay enough for them to support a family. ” (Matthews, Daphne) In 1973 Angelou married her second husband, Paul De Feu. She published her 4th autobiography in 1981 and accepted a position as Reynolds professor of American studies at Wake Forest University. (Shaw, Taylor) Angelou continued writing throughout the 80s, and appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” multiple times to introduce her writings to new audiences.
In 1993 Angelou was the first female poet to appear in a Presidential inauguration when she performed “On the Pulse of the Morning” during President Clinton’s inauguration. Many things have influenced Maya Angelou’s poems and autobiographies. She has lived a long life from 1928 until today, encompassing more than eight decades. During Angelou’s long life the Great Depression and World War II were going on. She has also lived through segregation and witnessed racism within her community. Angelou had to deal with rape at a young age. She also had to live with the identity of a black girl at a time when racial prejudice was at an all time high.
The common themes in Angelou’s poems were the life experiences of Blacks and the discrimination they had to face. (Shaw, Taylor) Angelou is known for her short lyrics and jazzy rhythms in her poetry. The lines in her poems are very short and there is a lot of alliteration as well as a wide range of vocabulary. Some of Angelou’s most famous poems are: “Phenomenal Woman”, “Still I Rise”, “Woman Work”, and “On the Pulse of the Morning”. (Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd Ed. ) Many of Angelou’s most famous works are her autobiographies.
She shares some of her most personal information in her series of 5 autobiographies. Many say that her most famous work is her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Some other autobiographies are: Gather Together in My Name, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry like Christmas, and All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. Maya Angelou is one of the most influential women of our time. Angelou is a famous poet, a novelist, a teacher, an actress, a distinguished speaker, and a civil rights activist. She continues to be an inspiration and will be remembered as one of the greatest poets and authors ever.