Maya Angelou, one of he most well known poets and actresses as well as figures in the American Civil Rights Movement, was born as Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis Missouri. Angelou is particularly well known for her autobiographical writings; especially I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and All god’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. She was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize with her 1971 work of poetry, Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die. When Bill Clinton was inaugurated as President in 1993 he request
that she read her poem On the Pulse of Morning at his inauguration.
Much of Angelou’s early years were spent going back and forth between her birthplace of St. Louis and rural Arkansas as well as San Francisco. She was dubbed as Maya by her younger brother, Bailey, during childhood and the name has remained with her throughout life.
When she was still quite young, Angelou’s parents divorc and as a result she and her brother were sent to a small, completely segregated town in Arkansas to live with their grandmother.
Much of her first autobiographical book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is related to her growing up years in this segregated town. When the book was originally published it was banned by many schools because of its frank depiction of mature issues, including racism and sex. Today, the book is required reading for many students in the Arkansas public school system.
One of the events detail in the book relates to the rape that Angelou suffer at the age of 8 by one of her mother’s friends during a visit to St. Louis. She inform her brother of the attack and then within a few days learned that the man who raped her had suffered a rather violent death. Under the belief that she had killed the man by revealing the attack, Angelou stopped speaking for five years. It was only through poetry that she would eventually be able to find her voice once again.
At the age of 16, she became an unwed mother and then later marry a sailor by the name of Tosh Angelos; however, the marriage did not last. Her second book, also autobiographical, Gather Together in My Name, relates to her marriage and this time in her life.
Eventually she became the first black woman. Maya Angelou streetcar conductor in San Francisco and also worked as an actor and a dancer. Angelou was quite active in the civil rights movement and worked with Dr. Martin Luther King toward that end. She became the first black woman to have an original screenplay produced in 1971. The play was entitled Georgia, Georgia and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Angelou’s fourth book, The Heart of a Woman, details much her life during her 30’s. During this time she focused on her writing and made a strong commitment to the civil rights movement and integration. Her next work, also an autobiography, was All God’s Children Need Travelin. Shoes and reveals her passion for Ghana, which she has adopted as her homeland.