Women and Adversity: Maya Angelou
Author, Poet, Actress, Activist
Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, was “first” in a number of enterprises:
* First black female cable car conductor in San Francisco
* I know Why the Caged Bird Sings became the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman
* First African-American woman to have her screenplay, “Georgia, Georgia,” produced
* Has the record for being two years on The New York Times paperback nonfiction bestseller list
Maya Angelou’s parents separated when she was three. She and her brother were sent to Stamps, Arkansas to live with her grandmother,
and she experienced racial discrimination there. On a visit home, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Incensed by this horrendous violation,
her uncles beat the man to death. Her 1969 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings recounts the experience.
She gave birth to a boy when she was a teen but didn’t marry the father. Her first marriage was to a white Greek sailor. She chose part of his
last name and her childhood nickname to form Maya Angelou. Her second marriage was to an African civil rights activist. Her third was to
Germaine Greer’s ex-husband. Each of the marriages was brief. Through the 60s Ms. Angelou became acquainted with civil rights leaders,
including James Baldwin and Malcolm X, and worked for equal rights for blacks.
In 1971 Angelou published the Pulitzer Prize-nominated poetry collection Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ’Fore I Die. Besides being a writer and poet,
she was an actress, dancer and singer.
She died on May 28, 2014 at the age of 86.