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Looking Back: Maya Angelou 1928 - 2014

January 26, 2015

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In 2014 we said farewell to one of the most beloved modern African American writers - Maya Angelou. Did you know that she was not only a poet, but a journalist, a dancer, and an actress? Maya Angelou had an exciting life - find out more about it!

Maya Angelou was an author, dancer, director and more!Maya Angelou was an author, dancer, director and more!

Maya from Missouri

Born during the Great Depression in Missouri in 1928, Marguerite Anne Johnson would see a lot of change in her lifetime, and become an influential African American voice as an author and artist during the span of her lifetime. Her brother first gave her the nickname Maya, and later when she started her dance career it really stuck! When her parents marriage failed she and her brother Bailey moved around to live with their grandmother and back to their mother again. Due to a traumatic situation as a child, Maya stopped talking for a full five years! But in this time she developed an incredible memory, her great love of books and her ability to notice things in the world around her that others missed.

Maya was great reader from a young ageMaya was great reader from a young age

"Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage."

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

During World War II Maya went to school in California, and was the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco! She also had a son, Clyde. After the war she met a former sailor, a Greek man named Tosh Angelos who she married - even though mixed race marriages were uncommon and her mother disapproved. She also began to take modern dance classes and toured as a dancer. She danced and sang to Calypso music across North America, and later toured the world as part of an opera - not taking a break for a moment she began to learn every language she could.

Her marriage didn't work out, but when she met author John Oliver Killens, he showed her that one of her true loves was writing - and she was great at it! She joined the Harlem Writers Guild in New York, and by 1969 had published her most famous memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Following a freedom fighter she had met, she was also a journalist working in Africa during this time, writing in Cairo and Ghana, and had made friends with legendary African American rights figures back home like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1969I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1969

Her incredible life and words have been an inspiration for many.

"We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color."

Fun Facts

  • Maya wrote 7 autobiographies
  • She recited her poem "On the Pulse of the Morning" at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton
  • She directed the film Down in the Delta
  • Won a Grammy
  • She never earned a university degree but liked friends to call her "Doctor"
  • She was an amazing cook
  • Her home in Harlem had an incredible library according to friends and family
  • When she wrote, she would often check into a hotel and bring a pack of cards and stay there the whole day
  • She has been called "The Black Woman's Poet Laureate"
  • She was married twice
  • She composed songs for singer Roberta Flack
  • She wrote the screenplay for the film Georgia, Georgia
  • Over thirty universities worldwide granted her honorary degrees
  • Despite not going to school, she was a professor in North Carolina
  • She died May 28th, 2014

Have Your Say

What do you think of Maya Angelou? Let us know in the comments section below.