Maya Angelou Biography: Success as an Author

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), the memoir of Maya Angelou’s early life in which a young African American woman discovers her self-confidence, is her most well-known work as an author, poet, playwright, stage and screen performer, and director.


Maya Angelou Early Life

Marguerite Johnson, Maya Angelou’s mother, was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, MO. The marriage of Maya’s parents broke down, so she and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in rural Stamps, Arkansas, who owned a general store.

The rape of Angelou at the age of eight by her mother’s boyfriend while on a trip to St. Louis, Missouri, happened despite her grandmother’s efforts to instill pride and self-confidence in her. She was beaten to death by her uncles for testifying against him.

Angelou refused to speak for about five years because she believed she had caused the man’s death by mentioning his name. Public schools in Arkansas and California were where she went to school. She was the first African American female streetcar conductor in San Francisco, California, while still in high school.

At the age of sixteen, she became pregnant with her first child, a son. In 1950, she tied the knot with a Greek sailor named Tosh Angelos, but the union lasted only a few years.

Later, Angelou pursued a career in theatre after studying dance and drama. She was in Porgy and Bess, which was performed in twenty-two countries around the world with her participation. She also performed in several Broadway and off-Broadway productions, including the play she co-wrote with Godfrey Cambridge, Cabaret for Freedom.

Angelou worked as the associate editor of The Arab Observer in Cairo, Egypt, in the early 1960s. For the Ghanaian Times, she wrote articles, as well as a segment for the Ghanaian Broadcasting Corporation in Accra. In the mid-1960s, she was promoted to the position of assistant administrator at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama.

Accra’s African Review featured an editor from 1964 to 1966 was her. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968) returned to the United States, he asked her to serve as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s northern coordinator.

Maya Success as an Author

Autobiographical works by Angelou, like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), have been a huge success since they were first published. Angelou’s life up to the age of sixteen is described in this book, which provides a child’s perspective on the confusing world of adults.

Toward the end of the book, Angelou has recovered her self-esteem and is caring for her newborn son. This book not only tells the story of the maturation of a young African American woman in the 1930s but also sheds light on the broader social and political climate of the time.

Gather Together in My Name (1974), her next autobiography, describes the period immediately following the birth of her son Guy and her struggle to care for him as a single parent. When Angelou returns from her international tour of Porgy, and Bess, in 1976, she describes her experiences on the stage in Singin’ & Swingin’ & Getting Merry Like Christmas (1976).

The mature Angelou in The Heart of a Woman (1981) is more at ease with her creativity and success. During her four-year stay in Ghana, she wrote about her experiences in the book All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. Kofi and His Magic, a children’s book by Angelou, is just one of her many works (1996).

Other Works and Awards

Poems by Angelou had been written before her novels became popular. Before I Die (1971), Oh Pray My Wings Are Going to Fit Me (1975), And Still I Rise (1976), which was made into an Off-Broadway production in 1979; Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing (1983), and Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, illustrated by celebrated New York artist Jean Michel Basquiat (1993) are among her other collections (1997).

While many young people enjoy Angelou’s short lyrics and jazzy rhythms, her use of simple language and heavy use of short lines has turned off some critics. Other critics, on the other hand, have praised Angelou’s poetry for its focus on African-American social and political issues.

At the swearing-in of President Bill Clinton (1946–), Angelou read her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning,” which calls for a renewed national commitment to unity and social improvement.

Award nominations include the National Book Award in 1970; the Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1972; the League of New York Theatres and Producers’ nomination in 1973 for her performance as Look Away; and the North Carolina Award for Literature in 1987, among others.

During the 1970s, she served on President Gerald Ford’s Bicentennial Commission and Jimmy Carter’s National Commission on International Women’s Year. In 1976, Ladies’ Home Journal named her Woman of the Year in Communications, and in 1983, it named her one of the top one hundred most influential women in the country.

The University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Kansas, the University of Wichita, and California State University, Sacramento have all employed Angelou as a professor.

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Television and Movies

For 20th Century Fox, Angelou worked as a writer-producer on the feature film Sister, Sister, which received critical acclaim. As a result, she has also written the screenplays for Georgia, Georgia, and All Day Long, as well as the television scripts for Sister, Sister, and the first episode of Brewster Place for television.

Blacks! Blues! Black!, which she created, produced, and hosted for NEA Educational Television, was her brainchild. In 1995, she was also a co-star in the film How to Make an American Quilt. The feature-length film Down in the Delta was Angelou’s first foray into film directing (1998).

An elderly woman’s journey was depicted in the film, which featured a seventy-year-old protagonist. Directing is very different from writing because you have “ninety crew and the cast and the sets and lights and the sound,” Angelou explains in an interview.

Maya Angelou Biography

In her seventies, Angelou continues to be a powerful force in a variety of fields, including her autobiography, which she published in 2002 with the sixth volume, A Song Flung Up to Heaven.

Wake Forest University has had her as a Reynolds Professor and writer-in-residence since the early 1980s. In 2000, she received the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton, and in 2002 Hallmark launched the Maya Angelou Life Mosaic Collection, a collection of greeting cards containing her verse. A cookbook and another feature film are also in her plans.


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