Maya Angelou Additional Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Maya Angelou’s many achievements in diverse fields testify to the breadth of her talent, the strength of her character, and the power of her vision. As an actress, singer, activist, playwright, poet, and, especially, a compelling autobiographer, she has succeeded in communicating her remarkable experiences and perspective to an appreciative and ever-growing audience. Now in speeches and in interviews, Angelou criticizes the class system that keeps its heel on the poor, and she exhorts people to action, both for themselves and for others. The bird, finally out of its cage, swoops toward those still caged with cries of protest and relentless pecking at the gates of oppression.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Maya Angelou was born (as Marguerite Johnson) in St. Louis, Missouri, and spent time as a young girl in Arkansas (in Stamps, near Hope, where Clinton grew up) and California. She was raped at the age of eight by her mother’s boyfriend (a story that is retold in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings), had a son by the time she was sixteen, and worked at a number of jobs before she became an artist. In her early career, she was a singer and actress, appearing in plays and musicals around the world through the 1950’s and 1960’s. She has since directed plays and films, recorded music and spoken word, and appeared on television as both a narrator and a series host. She has also taught at various American universities since the 1960’s and at Wake Forest University since 1981. She has been an outspoken advocate of civil and human rights most of her adult life, and she has lectured and written widely about these issues for decades.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Before her first autobiographical work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was published, Maya Angelou had a richly varied, difficult life. Her work has made her one of the most important African American female voices in the twentieth century. All of her writing is steeped in recollection of African American slavery and oppression. It also includes frank discussion of the physical and psychological pain of child abuse, the sexual anxieties of adolescence, unmarried motherhood, drug abuse, unhappy marriage, and divorce.

In Gather Together in My Name, Angelou struggles as a single mother to raise her son, while earning a living as Creole cook, army enlistee, madam, and prostitute. In Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, she becomes a singer and an exotic dancer in San Francisco before joining the traveling cast of a George Gershwin musical on a twenty-two-nation tour. In The Heart of a Woman, she describes her later work as northern coordinator of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, her frustrations with American racism and yearnings for her African roots lead her to a four-year stay in Ghana.

In her writings Angelou describes racism, prejudice, oppression, and other social ills. She comes to know males as pimps, drug pushers, occasional lovers, traditional and untraditional husbands, and Muslim polygamists. Angelou responds to these experiences with an increasing sense of what it means to be an African American woman in the twentieth century. In Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now, Angelou offers her philosophy of life based upon tolerance and respect for diversity.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, re-christened Maya, and taking the professional name Angelou (an adaptation of the name of her first husband, Tosh Angelos), Maya Angelou studied music and dance with Martha Graham, Pearl Primus, and Ann Halprin. Her early career was as an actress and singer, to which she quickly added the roles of civil rights worker (as the northern coordinator for the SCLC, 1959-1960), editor (as associate editor for the Arab Observer, 1961-1962), educator (beginning with the School of Music and Drama at the University of Ghana’s Institute of African Studies, 1963-1966), and finally writer—first as a reporter for the Ghanaian Times (1963-1965). During the late 1960’s and 1970’s, she taught at many colleges and universities in California and Kansas, accepting the post of Reynolds Professor at Wake Forest University in 1981. Since then she has also been a sought-after speaker.

She has told much of her own life’s story in her five-volume autobiography. Undoubtedly, Angelou’s legacy will be her writings: Although the best-selling I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was censored, her excellent work as an author in all genres has kept her story before the world. Angelou’s early years have been burned into the minds of numerous readers. An image from this work centers on three-year-old Marguerite and four-year-old Bailey Johnson aboard a train, alone, traveling from California to their grandmother’s home in Stamps, Arkansas, after...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Maya Angelou (AN-juh-lew) is a modern-day Renaissance woman. As a writer, she is best known for her autobiographies, particularly I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and for her collections of poetry, but she also has gained prominence through her playwriting, directing, acting, dancing, and involvement in civil rights movements. She was born Marguerite Johnson, in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. Upon the breakup of her parents’ marriage, she was sent by her mother to Stamps, Arkansas, where she lived with her paternal grandmother, Ann Henderson. These years are chronicled in the first volume of Angelou’s autobiography, and they include both typical and atypical experiences of growing up, from the time that Angelou imposed silence upon herself to the time she graduated from Lafayette Training School, aware of the racial prejudice that had prevented her from aspiring to more than an education in a vocational school.{$S[A]Johnson, Marguerite;Angelou, Maya}

After graduation, Angelou moved to San Francisco to live with her mother. There she gave birth to a son, studied dance and drama, and began a career as a performer. In the 1950’s, she performed in nightclubs in San Francisco and New York and toured Europe and Africa as a member of a company staging the opera Porgy and Bess. In the 1960’s, at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she became the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Following this experience, she lived in Ghana, where she was a reporter for the Ghanian Times, a writer for Radio Ghana, an editor of the African Review, and an assistant administrator at the University of Ghana. In 1970, she published the first (and the most...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928, Maya Angelou is the daughter of Vivian Baxter and Bailey Johnson. When her parents’ marriage ended in divorce, she was sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with her paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson. Maya was three years old, and she was joined by her brother Bailey, who gave her the name Maya.

Angelou graduated with top honors from the Lafayette County Training School in 1940 and was sent to the San Francisco Bay Area, where her mother had moved. Continuing her education at George Washington High School, she also attended evening classes at the California Labor School, where she had a scholarship to study drama and dance. Shortly after receiving her high school...

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(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

When Maya Angelou was three and her brother, Bailey, was four, her parents divorced and shipped the two young children to live with their...

(The entire section is 756 words.)