Pulitzer Prize winner, Maya Angelou is know best for her six autobiographies including, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Ladies Home Journal named Angelou one of the 30 most powerful women in America. All of Angelou’s novels are taught in schools or in Universities, they are hailed as some of the greatest literature in American history.
Angelou was born, Marguerite Johnson, in St. Louis. Missouri on April 4, 1928. The nickname “Maya” was given to her by an older brother. When Maya was three, her parents split up and Maya and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother.
After four years, the children were returned to live with their mother. At age 8, Maya was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. After her confession about this to her brother, Mr. Freeman was jailed. Mr. Freeman was released after an overnight stay in prison, but was found kicked to death shortly after his release. Due to this traumatizing event, Maya became a mute as she feared people would die if she spoke.
Once again. Angelou and her brother were sent back to live with their grandmother. A teacher, Bertha Flowers, helped to encourage Angelou to speak again. When she was 13, she was again sent to live with her mother. During this time, she attended George Washington High School learning dance and drama.
Angelou wrote, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969. This book recounts the first 18 years of her life.
In her senior year of high school, Angelou became pregnant with her son, Guy. She dropped out of school and began working as a waitress and cook to support herself and her new baby.
In her twenties, she changed her name to, Maya Angelou after a dancing performance at the Purple Onion Cabaret.
Adulthood and Career
In 1952, Angelou married Tosh Angelous, three years later, they divorced. During the time she was married to Angelous, she wrote, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas. Following this time, she toured Europe performing in operas and dance shows. In 1957, Angelou became involved in the Civil Rights Movement and held the position of Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Angelou became friends with Malcolm X and in 1964, she joined him in helping build the Organization of African American Unity. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on Angelou’s birthday. This tragic event caused Angelou dealt with her grief by writing, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
In 1973, Angelou married Paul de Feu. The years with him were some of her most productive years as a writer and poet. In 1977, she earned an Emmy nomination for her role in the film, Roots. During this time of Angelou’s success, she met, Opera Winfrey. Angelou has become Winfrey’s mentor. In 1981, Angelou divorced de Feu and returned to the southern United States.
In 1993, Angelou read a poem at President Clinton’s inauguration. This was the first poem to be read at an inauguration since President Kennedy. Her reading, “One the Pulse of the Morning” was broadcast live around the world.
Angelou now has over 30 published works, 13 of which are best-sellers. Angelou has won several awards including the Pulitzer Prize for her novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Angelou is now hailed as one of the great voices to black literature. Angelou is considered to be an author, poet, playwright, professional stage and screen producer, director, performer and singer. Angelou speaks numerous languages and has been to several countries where she has worked as a journalist for foreign publications. To this day, Angelou still is in high demand for speaking engagements.