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Maya Angelou

With women's history month coming to a close, we shine the light on Maya Angelou.

Avery Bailey, Staffer

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Marguerite Annie Johnson Angelou, also known as Maya Angelou, was a screenwriter, poet, and civil rights activist, best known for her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969). She made history with her memoir being the first nonfiction best-seller written by African-American woman.


Angelou’s most famous poem was, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die (1971). This poem was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Angelou also won a Grammy Award for ‘best spoken word album’ for the audio version of her poem, On the Pulse of Morning.  


During Angelou’s early life, her parents divorced and Angelou and her older brother Bailey were sent to live with their grandmother, Anne Henderson, in Stamps, Arkansas. Angelou suffered being raped by her mother’s boyfriend. In response to that, her uncles killed said boyfriend. Angelou, in wake of the incident stopped talking. She returned to Arkansas and spent years as a mute.


During World War II, Angelou moved to San Francisco, where she won a scholarship to study dance and acting at the California Labor School. During this time, she also became the first black female cable car conductor. After Angelou had her son, she worked various jobs to support herself and her child.


In the mid 1950s, Angelou’s performing career started to take off. She landed a role in a production of Porgy and Bess, then later appearing in the off-Broadway production of Calypso Heat Wave (1957) while also releasing her first album, Miss Calypso (1957). Angelou went on to win a Tony Award nomination for her ro


le in Look Away (1973) and an Emmy Award nomination for her work for her work on the TV miniseries Roots (1977).


In the 1960s Angelou spent much of her time in first Egypt, and then in Ghana. She worked as an editor and a freelance writer. She also held a position at the University of Ghana for a time. In Ghana, Angelou got close with Malcolm X when she joined a community of “Revolutionist Returnees.” In 1964 when she returned to the U.S., she helped Malcolm X set up the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which was disbanded after he was assassinated the following year.


After Angelou published Caged Bird, broke new ground, artistically, educationally, and socially with her screenplay, Georgia, Georgia (1972). This made her the first African-American woman to have her screenplay produced.


When Angelou passed on May 28, 2014 due to health issues she dealt with for a number of years, people took to social media to mourn and remember her. Many famous performers and politicians tweeted out their favourite quotes by her in tribute. Our own President Obama issued a statement about Angelou, calling her a “brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman.”

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Maya Angelou