Biography of Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928.

She spent her childhood in California, Arkansas, and St. Louis, and lived with her paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, for most of her childhood years. At age 8, she was raped by her mother's boyfriend in St.Louis; this led to years of muteness for Maya, which she finally overcame through help from a caring neighbor, and a great love for literature.

At age 16, Maya became the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco; in later years, she became the first black woman screenwriter and director in Hollywood. In the 60's, she was a friend to both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X; she served in the SCLC with Dr. King, and worked for years for the civil rights movement. Also in the 1960's, she worked and travelled in Africa, as a journalist and teacher, and helping with several African independence movements. In 1970, she published her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, to great acclaim, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry the following year.

Angelou has had a long and distinguished career, and is a poet, writer, civil-rights activist, and historian, among other things. She was also an accomplished actress, dancer, and singer, having performed in a touring production of Porgy and Bess , Jean Genet's play, The Blacks, and the acclaimed television series, Roots. Angelou is probably best known for her autobiographical works, which include I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and All God's Children Need Travelling Shoes, and fill a total of five best-selling volumes.

In 1993, Angelou read her poem, "On the Pulse of Morning," at the inauguration of President Clinton; this was one of the high points of her career, and again brought her into the public spotlight. She was a professor of American History at Wake Forest University, North Carolina, and made regular lecture and speaking tours.

Maya Angelou passed away on May 28th, 2014.

Study Guides on Works by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was born in 1928, a time of oppression for African Americans, and although as an adult Angelou experienced a different America to the one experienced by her ancestors, this poem is her declaration that she refuses to be defined by...