Maya Angelou is a world-renowned writer, performer, poet, and civil rights advocate. In this short biography, you will learn more about her early life, most notable achievements, awards, and famous works.
Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928 under the name of Marguerite Annie Johnson. Although her place of birth was St. Louis, Missouri, she grew up in Stamps, Arkansas with her grandmother due to her paratns’ separation.
While in Arkansas, she experienced different forms of discrimination because of being an African-American. Her childhood became more difficult when she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She was just 7 years old. Her uncles were so angered by the event that they killed the rapist. Maya Angelou became so traumatized by the series of events, that she stopped talking for some time.
It was during the World War II that Maya Angelou received a scholarship in California Labor School, where she studied Dance and Acting. In 1952, she married a Greek sailor named Anastasios Angelopulos, from where she got her pen name and screen name (Angelou= short for Angelopulos; Maya= her nickname as a child).
Maya Angelou’s biggest career boost as a performer came during the 1950s. It was during this time when she got a role in Porgy and Bes and Calypso Heat Wave. Aside from these, she was also able to have her first album entitled “Miss Calypso,” released in 1957.
As a civil rights advocate, she joined the Harlem Writers Guild and also became the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1961, she starred in another play entitled “The Blacks” by the French writer, Jean Genet. Although the play was praised by reviewers and her career flourished, she left the country and worked as a freelance writer, an editor, and a school administrator. During the 1960s, she spent most of her time out of the country and lived in Egypt and Ghana.
She returned to the United States of America in 1965 and helped establish the Organization of Afro-American Unity. In 1969, her autobiography entitled “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” an autobiography that focused on her childhood and teenage years, became a huge hit. Aside from that, she also wrote the screenplay Georgia, Georgia (1972), which became popular as well.
Other famous works by Maya Angelou include:
- Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die (1971; a poem)
- All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986; an autobiography)
- On the Pulse of Morning (1993; a poem)
- Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1994; essay collection)
- A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002; an autobiography)
- Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories With Recipes (2005; a cookbook)
- Letter to My Daughter (2008; advice for women)
- Great Food, All Day Long (2010; a cookbook)
Awards and Nominations
Maya Angelou received several awards and nominations for her notable contributions in the history of literature and the entertainment industry. Some of these are:
- Pulitzer Prize nomination Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die (1971; a poem)
- Tony Award nomination for Look Away (1973; a play)
- Emmy Award nomination for Roots (1977; a TV series)
- Chicago International Film Festival’s Audience Choice Award (1998)
- Two NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Image Awards (2005 & 2009)
- Grammy Award for On the Pulse of Morning (1994; audio recording of the poem)
- She was the first African-American cablecar conductor in San Francisco, California.
- Her poem entitled, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, was the first bestseller by an African-American.
- She recited On the Pulse of Morning at former president Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. This was the first after Robert Frost’s recitation of The Gift Outright at Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.
- Topped The New York Times‘ chart for nonfiction bestsellers for two years. (1995)
- She has shared friendships with Martin Luther King Jr. and Oprah Winfrey.