The relationship between Maya Angelou and her mother could be described as troubled, sporadic, or disconnected. Her early, formative years were certainly impacted by the experiences Angelou had, with and without her mother's presence.
After her parents' divorce when she was three, Maya and her older brother were sent to live with their paternal grandmother. Annie Henderson provided a stable environment for the children for four years.
At age eight, Maya was placed under her mother's care again. She was raped by her mother's boyfriend; upon telling her brother of the incident, the boyfriend was convicted but kept in custody for only one day. He was killed four days later, presumably by Angelou's family; she didn't speak for almost five years because
"I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone..."
During this time of self-imposed silence, Angelou developed her abilities of observation and her memory for detail, as well as a love of literature. Returned to her grandmother, a teacher and family friend supported her as she returned to speaking and introduced her to authors who were white, black, male, and female.