Women and Adversity: Maya Angelou
Author, Poet, Actress, Activist
When I read that Maya Angelou had written seven autobiographies, I doubted she could maintain interest about her life through all those books. How wrong I was. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969, grabbed my attention immediately. It recounts that her parents separated when she was three, which resulted in her and her brother being sent to Stamps, Arkansas to live with her grandmother where she experienced racial discrimination. Back with her mother when she was seven, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Her uncles were so incensed by this horrendous violation, they beat the perpetrator to death. At the end of the book, Angelou is 17 and gives birth to a son. I couldn’t wait to read the second book in her autobiographical series. That was my reaction as I devoured each of the books.
Born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Angelou chalked up “firsts” 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 bestseller 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
* First Black woman on the U.S. quarter
The other autobiographies are:
Gather Together in my Name
Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas
The Heart of a Woman
All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes
A Song Flung Up to Heaven
Mom & Me & Mom
Angelou didn’t marry the father of her son. 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, and her third was to Germaine Greer’s ex-husband. Each of the marriages was brief. Through the 60s Angelou became acquainted with civil rights leaders, including James Baldwin and Malcolm X, and worked for equal rights for blacks. Besides being a writer and poet, she was an actress, dancer and singer. In 1971 she published the Pulitzer Prize-nominated poetry collection Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ’Fore I Die.
She died on May 28, 2014 at the age of 86.
I feature Angelou in my ebook Women and Adversity, Honoring 23 Black Women, available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.
More about Angelou: