Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

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Maya Angelou born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 and died May 28, 2014. She was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim.

She became a poet and writer after a string of odd jobs during her young adulthood. These included fry cook, sex worker, nightclub performer, Porgy and Bess cast member, Southern Christian Leadership Conferencecoordinator, and correspondent in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa. She was also an actress, writer, director, and producer of plays, movies, and public television programs. In 1982, she was named the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement and worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Beginning in the 1990s, she made approximately 80 appearances a year on the lecture circuit, something she continued into her eighties. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” (1993) at the first inauguration of Bill Clinton, making her the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961.

With the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou publicly discussed aspects of her personal life. She was respected as a spokesperson for Black people and women, and her works have been considered a defense of Black culture. Her works are widely used in schools and universities worldwide, although attempts have been made to ban her books from some US libraries. Angelou’s most celebrated works have been labeled as autobiographical fiction, but many critics consider them to be autobiographies. She made a deliberate attempt to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing and expanding the genre. Her books center on themes including racism, identity, family and travel.

Resources

Who Was Maya Angelou? by Ellen Labrecque

Born in Missouri in 1928, Maya Angelou had a difficult childhood. Jim Crow laws segregated blacks and whites in the South. Her family life was unstable at times. But much like her poem, “Still I Rise,” Angelou was able to lift herself out of her situation and flourish. She moved to California and became the first black—and first female—streetcar operator before following her interest in dance. She became a professional performer in her twenties and toured the U.S. and Europe as an opera star and calypso dancer. But Angelou’s writing became her defining talent. Her poems and books, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, brought her international acclaim.

Maya Angelou by Lisbeth Kaiser

Maya Angelou spent much of her childhood in Stamps, Arkansas. After a traumatic event at age eight, she stopped speaking for five years. However, Maya rediscovered her voice through wonderful books, and went on to become one of the world’s most beloved writers and speakers. This moving book features stylish and quirky illustrations and extra facts at the back, including a biographical timeline with historical photos and a detailed profile of Maya Angelou’s life.

Poetry for Young People: Maya Angelou by Dr. Edwin Graves Wilson Phd

An acclaimed anthology receives a new design and cover! Award-winning writer, historian, and civil rights activist Dr. Maya Angelou is a true American icon. Twenty-five of her finest poems capture a range of emotions and experiences, from the playful “Harlem Hopscotch” to the prideful “Me and My Work” to the soul-stirring “Still I Rise.” Award-winning artist Jerome Lagarrigue masterfully illustrates each verse, and renowned academic Dr. Edwin Graves Wilson, a longtime colleague of Dr. Angelou, has written the book’s introduction, introductions to the poems, and annotations.

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