Maya Angelou life and biography

Maya Angelou picture, image, poster

Maya Angelou biography

Date of birth : 1928-04-04
Date of death : 2014-05-28
Birthplace : St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2014-05-28
Credited as : Writer and poet, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings , autobiographical fiction

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Maya Angelou was an American autobiographer and poet who has been called "America's most visible black female autobiographer" by scholar Joanne M. Braxton. She is best known for her series of six autobiographical volumes, which focus on her childhood and early adulthood experiences. The first, best-known, and most highly acclaimed, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), focuses on the first seventeen years of her life, brought her international recognition, and was nominated for a National Book Award. Angelou has been highly honored for her body of work, including being awarded over 30 honorary degrees and the nomination of a Pulitzer Prize for her 1971 volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Diiie.

Angelou was a member of the Harlem Writers Guild in the late 1950s, was active in the Civil Rights movement, and served as Northern Coordinator of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Since 1991, Angelou has taught at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, as recipient of the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies. Since the 1990s she has made around eighty appearances a year on the lecture circuit.

Spending much time under the care of her religious grandmother in Arkansas, Maya Angelou had a rough childhood where she would return home under her mother’s care in St. Louis. Her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, released in 1970 is an autobiography discussing her upbringing and rape at the age of eight years old by one of her mother’s boyfriends. During this traumatic time, she didn’t speak for nearly five years, hence the title of the work.

In San Francisco, at a young age, she worked as a housekeeper, a prostitute, and a dancer. Her professional name was Maya Angelou, which she used for the rest of her life. In her later twenties, she moved to New York City to audition for different dance roles. In the sponsored Porgy and Bess, she was able to travel in Africa and Europe to perform. Upon returning to New York City, she studied dance further and performed in The Blacks. In New York, she also became active in the Harlem Writer’s Guild, which encouraged her to publish her memoirs.

Maya Angelou then moved to Cairo, Egypt where she got married and worked for the Arab Observer, and then to Ghana where she worked for the African Review. Upon her divorce, she moved back to California and wrote a television series about African Americans in America. Her career in media has lived as long as her literary one. In the 1990s, she worked on and acted in films such as Poetic Justice, How to make an American Quilt, and her own work, Down in the Delta.

Her poetry has received national recognition. These included such works as Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die, And Still I Rise, and I Shall Not Be Moved. She also published some children’s works, including My Painted House and My Friendly Chicken and Me. On the academic scene, Maya Angelou has taught at different universities, which have included the University of California in Los Angeles and Wake Forest University. In 1993, she recited one of her poems at Bill Clinton’s inauguration.

Her works of personal narrative, poetry, journals, and film have won her unprecedented recognition, several Pulitzer Prize nominations, among other awards. Maya Angelou’s works embody the African American struggle on an intimate and societal level. Her appeal to young audience have inspired others to pursue their dreams, ambitions, and to stand strong for their beliefs, no matter the odds against them.

Maya Angelou passed away at her Winston-Salem home on May 28, 2014. The news was reportedly confirmed by the town's mayor, Allen Jones.


Surname is pronounced "Ahn-ge-low"; born Marguerite Annie Johnson, April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, MO; daughter of Bailey (a doorman and naval dietician) and Vivian (a registered nurse, professional gambler, and a rooming house and bar owner; maiden name, Baxter) Johnson; married Tosh Angelos, 1950 (divorced); married Paul Du Feu, December, 1973 (divorced, 1981); children: Guy. Education: Attended public schools in Arkansas and California; studied music privately, dance with Martha Graham, Pearl Primus, and Ann Halprin, and drama with Frank Silvera and Gene Frankel; studied cinematography in Sweden. Memberships: American Film Institute (member of board of trustees, 1975--), Directors Guild of America, Equity, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Women's Prison Association (member of advisory board), National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year, Harlem Writer's Guild, Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, W. E. B. DuBois Foundation, National Society of Collegiate Scholars, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.


National Book Award nomination, 1970, for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; Yale University fellow, 1970; Pulitzer Prize nomination, 1972, for Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie; Tony Award nomination, 1973, for performance in Look Away; Rockefeller Foundation scholar in Italy, 1975; named Woman of the Year in Communications, Ladies' Home Journal, 1976; Emmy Award nomination, 1977, for performance in Roots; appointed first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, 1981; Matrix Award in the field of books, Women in Communication, Inc., 1983; North Carolina Award in Literature, 1987; Langston Hughes Award, City College of New York, 1991; Horatio Alger Award, 1992; Inaugural poet for President Bill Clinton, 1993; Grammy, Best Spoken Word Album, 1994, for recording of "On the Pulse of Morning"; etiquette award, National League of Junior Cotillions, 1993; Medal of Distinction, University of Hawaii Board of Regents, 1994; President's Award, Collegiate of Language Association for Outstanding Achievements, 1996; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Los Angeles and Martin Luther King, Jr., Legacy Association National Award, 1996; named to the New York Black 100 list, Schomburg Center and The Black New Yorkers, 1996; distinguished merit citation, National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1997; Homecoming Award, Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers, 1997; North Carolina Woman of the Year Award, North Carolina Black Publishers Association, 1997; Presidential & Lecture Series Award, University of North Florida, 1997; Cultural Keeper Awards, Black Caucus of the American Library Association, 1997; Humanitarian Contribution Award, Boston, MA, 1997; Alston/Jones International Civil and Human Rights Award, 1998; Christopher Award, New York, NY, 1998; American Airlines Audience, Gold Plaque Choice Award, Chicago International Film Festival, 1998, for Down in the Delta; Sheila Award, Tubman African American Museum, 1999; Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature, 1999; named one of the 100 best writers of the twentieth century, Writer's Digest, 1999; National Medal of Arts, 2000; Grammy award, 2002, for recording of A Song Flung Up to Heaven; Quill Award for poetry, 2006, for Amazing Peace; recipient of over fifty honorary degrees from colleges and universities.


Author, poet, scriptwriter, playwright, performer, actress, and composer. Arab Observer (English-language newsweekly), Cairo, Egypt, associate editor, 1961-62; University of Ghana, Institute of African Studies, Legon-Accra, Ghana, assistant administrator of School of Music and Drama, 1963-66; freelance writer for Ghanaian Times and Ghanaian Broadcasting Corporation, 1963-65; African Review, Accra, feature editor, 1964-66. Lecturer at University of California, Los Angeles, 1966; writer-in-residence at University of Kansas, 1970; distinguished visiting professor at Wake Forest University, Wichita State University, and California State University, Sacramento, 1974; Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, 1981--; visiting professor, universities in the United States; lecturer at various locations in the United States. Southern Christian Leadership Conference, northern coordinator, 1959-60; appointed member of American Revolution Bicentennial Council by President Gerald R. Ford, 1975-76; member of the Presidential Commission for International Women's Year, 1978-79; Board of Governors, University of North Carolina, Maya Angelou Institute for the Improvement of Child & Family Education at Winston-Salem State University, Winston-Salem, NC, 1998. Writer of poems for Hallmark greeting cards and gifts, 2002--. Host on XM Radio, 2006--.

Appeared in Porgy and Bess on twenty- two nation tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, 1954-55; appeared in Off-Broadway plays, Calypso Heatwave, 1957, and Jean Genet's The Blacks, 1960; produced and performed in Cabaret for Freedom, Off-Broadway, 1960; appeared in Mother Courage at University of Ghana, 1964; appeared in Medea in Hollywood, 1966; television narrator, interviewer, and host for African American specials and theater series, 1972--; made Broadway debut in Look Away, 1973; directed film, All Day Long, 1974; appeared in television miniseries Roots, 1977; directed play, And Still I Rise, Oakland, CA, 1976; directed play, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, by Errol John, London, 1988; appeared as Aunt June in film, Poetic Justice, 1993; appeared as Lelia Mae in television film, There Are No Children Here, 1993; appeared in advertising for the United Negro College Fund, 1994; appeared as Anna in film, How to Make an American Quilt, 1995; narrator of the film The Journey of the August King, 1995; narrator of the video Elmo Saves Christmas, 1996; appeared in the film Down in the Delta, 1998; appeared in film The Amen Corner and television series Down in the Delta, both 1999; appeared as Conjure Woman in the television special The Runaway, 2000; appeared as herself in various television specials.


* I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Random House (New York, NY), 1970, reprinted, 2002.
* Gather Together in My Name, Random House (New York, NY), 1974, reprinted, 1990.
* Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry like Christmas, Random House (New York, NY), 1976.
* The Heart of a Woman, Random House (New York, NY), 1981.
* All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.
* A Song Flung up to Heaven, Random House (New York, NY), 2002.
* I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou (omnibus edition of all six autobiographies), Modern Library (New York, NY), 2004.


* Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie, Random House (New York, NY), 1971.
* Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well, Random House (New York, NY), 1975.
* And Still I Rise, Random House (New York, NY), 1978, new version published as Still I Rise, illustrated by Diego Rivera, edited by Linda Sunshine, Random House (New York, NY), 2001.
* Shaker, Why Don't You Sing?, Random House (New York, NY), 1983.
* Poems, four volumes, Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
* Now Sheba Sings the Song (illustrated poem), illustrations by Tom Feelings, Dutton (New York, NY), 1987.
* I Shall Not Be Moved, Random House (New York, NY), 1990.
* On the Pulse of Morning, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.
* The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou, Random House (New York, NY), 1994.
* A Brave and Startling Truth, Random House (New York, NY), 1995.
* Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women, Random House (New York, NY), 1995, new edition published as Phenomenal Woman, paintings by Paul Gaugin, edited by Linda Sunshine, Random House (New York, NY), 2000.
* Amazing Peace, Random House (New York, NY), 2005.

Also author of The Poetry of Maya Angelou, 1969. Contributor of poems in The Language They Speak Is Things to Eat: Poems by Fifteen Contemporary North Carolina Poets and to Mary Higgins Clark, Mother, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1996.


* Lessons in Living, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.
* Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.
* Even the Stars Look Lonesome, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
* Hallelujah! The Welcome Table, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
* Mother: A Cradle to Hold Me, Random House (New York, NY), 2006.
* Letters to My Daughter, Random House (New York, NY), 2008.


* Mrs. Flowers: A Moment of Friendship (selection from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) illustrated by Etienne Delessert, Redpath Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1986.
* Life Doesn't Frighten Me (poem), edited by Sara Jane Boyers, illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Stewart, Tabori & Chang (New York, NY), 1993.
* (With others) Soul Looks Back in Wonder, illustrated by Tom Feelings, Dial (New York, NY), 1993.
* My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me, photographs by Margaret Courtney-Clarke, Crown (New York, NY), 1994.
* Kofi and His Magic, photographs by Margaret Courtney-Clarke, Crown (New York, NY), 1996.
* Angelina of Italy, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
* Izak of Lapland, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
* Renie Marie of France, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
* Mikale of Hawaii, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.


* (With Godfrey Cambridge) Cabaret for Freedom (musical revue), produced at Village Gate Theatre, New York, 1960.
* The Least of These (two-act drama), produced in Los Angeles, 1966.
* (Adapter) Sophocles, Ajax (two-act drama), produced at Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, 1974.
* (And director) And Still I Rise (one-act musical), produced in Oakland, CA, 1976.
* (Author of poems for screenplay) Poetic Justice (screenplay), Columbia Pictures, 1993.
* (Author of lyrics, with Alistair Beaton) King, book by Lonne Elder, III, music by Richard Blackford, London, 1990.

Also author of the play Gettin' up Stayed on My Mind, 1967, a drama, The Best of These, a two-act drama, The Clawing Within, 1966, a two- act musical, Adjoa Amissah, 1967, and a one-act play, Theatrical Vignette, 1983.


* Georgia, Georgia (screenplay), Independent-Cinerama, 1972.
* (And director) All Day Long (screenplay), American Film Institute, 1974.
* (Writer of script and musical score) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, CBS, 1979.
* Sister, Sister (television drama), National Broadcasting Co., Inc. (NBC-TV), 1982.
* (Writer of poetry) John Singleton, Poetic Justice (motion picture), Columbia Pictures, 1993.

Composer of songs, including two songs for movie For Love of Ivy, and composer of musical scores for both her screenplays. Author of Black, Blues, Black, a series of ten one-hour programs, broadcast by National Educational Television (NET-TV), 1968. Also author of Assignment America, a series of six one-half-hour programs, 1975, and of The Legacy and The Inheritors, two television specials, 1976. Other documentaries include Trying to Make It Home (Byline series), 1988, and Maya Angelou's America: A Journey of the Heart (also host). Public Broadcasting Service Productions include Who Cares about Kids, Kindred Spirits, Maya Angelou: Rainbow in the Clouds, and To the Contrary. Writer for television series Brewster Place, Harpo Productions.


* Miss Calypso (audio recording of songs), Liberty Records, 1957.
* The Poetry of Maya Angelou (audio recording), GWP Records, 1969.
* An Evening with Maya Angelou (audio cassette), Pacific Tape Library, 1975.
* I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (audio cassette with filmstrip and teacher's guide), Center for Literary Review, 1978, abridged version, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.
* Women in Business (audio cassette), University of Wisconsin, 1981.
* Making Magic in the World (audio cassette), New Dimensions, 1988.
* On the Pulse of Morning (audio production), Ingram, 1993.
* Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now (audio production), Ingram, 1993.
* Phenomenal Woman (audio production), Ingram, 1995.
* Been Found, 1996.


* Conversations with Maya Angelou, edited by Jeffrey M. Elliot, Virago Press (London, England), 1989.

* Maya Angelou (four-volume boxed set), Ingram (London, England), 1995.

* (With Mary Ellen Mark) Mary Ellen Mark: American Odyssey, Aperture (New York, NY), 1998.

Contributor to books, including Poetic Justice: Filmmaking South Central Style, Delta, 1993; Bearing Witness: Contemporary Works by African American Women Artists, Rizzoli International Publications, 1996; The Journey Back: A Survivor's Guide to Leukemia, Rainbow's End Company, 1996; The Challenge of Creative Leadership, Shephard-Walwyn, 1998; and Amistad: "Give Us Free": A Celebration of the Film by Stephen Spielberg, Newmarket Press, 1998.

Author of forewords to African Canvas: The Art of African Women, by Margaret Courtney-Clarke, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1991; Dust Tracks on the Road: An Autobiography, by Zora Neale Hurston, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991; Caribbean & African Cooking, by Rosamund Grant, Interlink (Northampton, MA), 1993;Double Stitch: Black Women Write about Mothers & Daughters, HarperCollins, 1993; African Americans: A Portrait, by Richard A. Long, Crescent Books (New York, NY), 1993; and Essence: Twenty-five Years Celebrating Black Women, edited by Patricia M. Hinds, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1995; author of introduction to Not without Laughter, by Langston Hughes, Scribner (New York, NY), 1995; author of preface to Mending the World: Stories of Family by Contemporary Black Writers, edited by Rosemarie Robotham, BasicCivitas Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Author, with Charlie Reilly and Amiri Bakara, Conversations with Amiri Bakara. Short stories are included in anthologies, including Harlem and Ten Times Black. Contributor of articles, short stories, and poems to national periodicals, including Harper's, Ebony, Essence, Mademoiselle, Redbook, Ladies' Home Journal, Black Scholar, Architectural Digest, New Perspectives Quarterly, Savvy Woman, and Ms. Magazine.

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