By: Gavin Garcia
To get you started, I’m going to give you a wild fact. Maya Angelou was actually born with the name Marguerite Annie Johnson! She had a troubled childhood as a young girl, and her parents were split, too. Dramatic, Right? Her brother and she were sent to live with their grandmother. After an awful visit to her mother, Angelou literally went mute for several years. During World War II, she moved to San Francisco and won a scholarship to study dance at the California Labor School. She also became the first black female cable car conductor. Pretty cool! She gave birth to a boy named Guy after a short relationship with someone in high school. She had to work many jobs to support herself and her son. In 1952, this future literature icon married Anastasios Angelopulos, super crazy name! Maya officially changed her name to Maya Angelou. Angelou is in Ana’s last name.
Maya’s career made a blast-off after she got a part in the play, “Porgy and Bess”. She appeared in several other plays like the “Calypso Heat Wave” in 1957. She was a member of the Harlem Writers Guild and being a civil rights activist; she organized and starred in a play called, “Cabaret for Freedom”. After being in another play, she moved to Egypt and then Ghana. Wow! She worked as an editor and freelance writer in Ghana.
After she moved back to the U.S., she was urged by a friend and another writer, James Baldwin, to write about her early life experiences. This resulted in a book called I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her debut memoir. This book made history and became the first non-fiction best-seller by an African- American woman. There is more where that came from! She also wrote the plays Georgia, Georgia, and Look Away, which were nominated for Tony Awards. The TV miniseries Roots, which was nominated for an Emmy Award, is written by her. The books called All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes and A Song Flung Up to Heaven are other autobiographies of her. Her several collections of poetry, with one winning a Pulitzer Prize, are some of her other works. Her most famous poem is, “On the Pulse of Morning”. She won a Grammy for the best spoken word album. She sung the audio version of her poems in this album. Cookbooks, advice books for women, another plays, and an essay collection are some more of her literary writing pieces.
Maya was a close friend of MLK, who was killed on her birthday in 1968. She actually stopped celebrating her own birthday and gave flowers to MLK’s wife, Coretta, for thirty years. She experience health issues for several years, and she died at her home on May 14, 2014 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Her passing spread like wildfire on social media. Even President Barack Obama issued a statement about her. He said she was a, “brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman.” I think so, too.