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Maya Angelou
Page Index:


Biographical Essays

No Surrender
Biographical Online Material
Autobiographical Writing
Maya Angelou Main Page



This  Web page  about Maya Angelou is done in tribute to her life and work , on the occasion of Hearts Day 2005 at Howard University.  Because Maya Angelou is such a multitalented and accomplished artist and wise woman, the task of exhausting the voluminous material which has been written by and about this one individual professor, academic, writer, poet, entertainer, public speaker, philosopher, essayist ...   becomes daunting.

Having thus stated these sobering facts, the guide has, as much as possible, merged academic with art to reflect the the totality of who  Maya Angelou is .  It is an excellent source for academic writing, and a wonderful muse.  I hope you enjoy perusing it,  as much as I enjoyed developing this page.
                       Celia C. Daniel: Bibliographer


The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence.  It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors, and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.                                                                            Maya Angelou

Biographical Essay 
By Kim Gaines, African - American Village, 2003

Maya Angelou personifies the resilience of the human spirit. The experiences of her childhood during the 1930's and 1940's in a racially segregated South, ultimately contributed to her philosophy of endurance despite defeat, and nurtured the author, poet, actress, playwright, film director and producer, and civil rights activist that we celebrate today. She is, in the words of her own famous poem, a "phenomenal woman" indeed.

Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri on April 4, 1928. The daughter of Bailey and Vivian Baxter Johnson, Angelou acquired the name Maya from her beloved brother Bailey Jr., who preferred "Maya," to "my sister." When their parent's marriage ended in divorce, young Maya and Bailey were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their paternal grandmother, whom they lovingly called, "Momma." This period in Angelou's life constitutes much of the content in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first and most widely acclaimed in her continuing series of best-selling autobiographies. In this volume, Angelou recounts the chilling incident of her rape at the age of eight by one of her mother's friends during one of Maya's sporadic stays in St. Louis with her estranged mother. It was a violation that forced the devastated child into years of unbroken silence. As an unwed mother at the age of sixteen, Angelou was, nonetheless, bent on self-sufficiency, and took various odd jobs in order to sustain herself and her son Clyde (later known as Guy). Her second autobiography, Gather Together in My Name, chronicles this period of struggle in which Angelou found in dance, the beginnings of what would come to be a heralded and multifaceted career.

                                         A Youthful Maya Angelou in 1954

Courtesy of G. Paul BishopJunior: Photographer. Images

If growing up is painful for the southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.                                                                                 Maya Angelou

Biographical Essay - Continued
By Kim Gaines, African - American Village, 2003
Angelou married Tosh Angelos, a sailor of Greek decent, in 1952, but Tosh's atheist ideals grew to be unacceptable to the devoutly religious Maya, and the marriage soon soured. Angelou's characteristic determination to emerge victorious from defeat, led her to a job as a dancer and bar girl in a strip joint where, once again, against all odds, she would reap success in the midst of meager circumstances. A gig as a singer and dancer in a trendy San Francisco club called The Purple Onion followed, and led to a role in a production of Porgy and Bess, with which she toured internationally for nearly a year.

Upon her return, Angelou moved with her son to New York, where she sang at various clubs including the acclaimed Apollo Theater in Harlem. During this time too, Angelou honed her writing skills with the esteemed Harlem Literary Guild, where she made contacts that eventually led to her recognition as producer, director, and performer in Cabaret for Freedom. The off-Broadway revue, produced as a benefit for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), was a collaborative production with comedian Godfrey Cambridge. Angelou's organizational savvy brought her an offer in 1960, to succeed Bayard Rustin as the northern coordinator for the SCLC where, under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, she involved herself in the ongoing struggle for civil rights. In the same year she met and married, South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make. Again, Angelou and Guy moved; this time with Make to Cairo, Egypt where, despite her husband's restrictions, Angelou took a job as associate editor of the Arab Observer. By 1963, Angelou's second marriage was over and, determined to remain in Africa, Angelou moved to Ghana where, in her writings, she states that she felt at home for the first time in her life. In Ghana, Angelou served as an administrator for the School of Music and Drama at the University of Ghana, and acted as feature editor for the African Review. In subsequent works, Angelou speaks of her experiences in the world of business ( Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas, 1976), her emergence as a writer and political activist (The Heart of a Woman, 1981), and the relationship between Africa and black culture in America (All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, 1986). Her books of autobiographical essays, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, and Even the Stars Look Lonesome, speak eloquently of aging, violence, rage, and black women (including her mother and her good friend, Oprah Winfrey). In addition to her obvious love for the spoken word, Angelou's artistic achievements are also evidenced in her numerous television appearances. She was nominated for an Emmy Award for her acting in Roots and Georgia, Georgia, a production which in 1971, also brought her notoriety as the first African- American woman to have an original screenplay produced. Among her numerous impressive honors are a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her works of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Die (1971), And Still I Rise (1976), and her membership in the Directors Guild was another first for African-American females. Included in Angelou's most recent commendations is an unprecedented request by Bill Clinton for her to write and deliver a poem for his 1993 presidential inauguration. Clinton describes Angelou as his favorite living poet. Delivered on January 20, 1993, On the Pulse of Morning, became a best-selling book, as it spoke to the undeniable and ultimate oneness of all individual groups, and challenged listeners to embrace their ability to effect the world positively in small, but often profound ways. The legendary poetess also wrote and delivered a poem for the historical Million Man March.

Today, Angelou lectures in the United States and abroad. She is also a Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Through her writing as well as her activism toward the cause of improving conditions for women in Third World countries (particularly Africa), Angelou continues to shed light on the possibilities for victory that can accompany seeming defeat. In a 1987 interview, she urged her students to read, especially African-American literature, saying that it reinforces to us that what has come before us has survived and produced. Angelou stressed to her students that this knowing lifts the spirit, and finished by saying, "...You pick yourself, dust yourself off, and prepare to love somebody. I don't mean sentimentality. I mean the condition of the human spirit so profound that it encourages us to build bridges."

The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence.  It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors, and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.                                                                             Maya Angelou

She has lectured on campuses, been a guest on many talk shows, and continues to be an extremely popular speaker. She is currently the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

No Surrender:  A Conversation With Maya Angelou by Gary Yonge The Guardian,  London, Saturday May 25, 2002.

"Does my sassiness upset you?" she asks in one of her most famous poems, Still I Rise.

"Why are you beset with gloom?
Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room."
  Maya Angelou

Courtesy of G. Paul Bishop Jr.: Photographer

One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.                                  Maya Angelou

Asked how she deals with people's responses to old age and she answers by singing the final verse of her poem, On Aging:  


"I'm the same person I was back then                                                                                                                              
A little less hair, a little less chin,
A lot less lungs and much less wind. 
But ain' t I lucky I can still breathe in."

                               Maya Angelou









Maya Angelou knows terror

"Her voice is slow and rich - so deliberate she seems to be tasting words before she lets them leave her mouth. Her speech is peppered with Southern courtesies. You may introduce yourself with your first name, but she will address you with your second.  Everybody, in her presence, becomes Mr. Mrs. or Miss - legacy from a time when African-Americans were denied those basic signifiers of civility by whites, and so demanded it within their own community."   

Biographical Information Online
Maya Angelou
Author, poet, playwright, professional stage and screen producer, director, and performer, and singer.

Interview with David Frost
The New Sun Newspaper : Here Maya talks about her faith and other things.

Biographical Essay
Named one of the top one hundred most influential women by Ladies' Home Journal, 1983.

Biography / Chronology
Beginning in 1972 when her screenplay "Georgia, Georgia" was produced, Angelou saw many of her works become feature films, becoming the first African-American woman to have a feature film adapted from one of her own stories. She went on to direct a film, and  received nominations for her theatrical, as well as her cinematic performances.

The Poet, the  Philosopher the Writer of Epigrams
Maya Angelou is one of the most recognized and respected voices in contemporary literature. The first African American woman to hit the best-sellers list with her autobiographical work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1970. This title was inspired by the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar. The words were taken from the first line of the poem
entitled Sympathy.

BBC Books Interview with Maya Angelou

        "Mrs. Flowers was so beautiful and generous..."

        "Dickens helped to liberate me..."

        "Until I had met Oliver [Twist] I thought all whites were mean and brutish. But I         
         understood Oliver - I knew where he was coming from..."
        "At that time we read all the books that were thrown away by the white schools."

                                                                                                 Maya Angelou

Book Group Corner
Bibliography and online discussion based on Maya Angelou's books.

Maya Angelou
Angelou Keeps poetry in the original computer

Academy of American Poets
Bio / Bibliography of Maya Angelou's work.

Maya Angelou
A Great biographical essay.

Biographical Essay
During her teens, she worked at a brothel and for a time was coerced by a boyfriend to sell her own body. It's hard to believe this woman who embodies so much strength ever fell victim to overbearing, abusive men.

Maya Angelou / Biographical Essay
Angelou married a South African freedom fighter and moved to Cairo. There, she became the editor of The Arab Observer, the only English news weekly in the Middle East. Later, she taught in Ghana and became feature editor of The African Review.

Keynote Speaker Profile
Although a poet and dramatist, Ms. Angelou is dedicated to the art of biography. She has written five biographical works, the first of which is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The book was nominated for the National Book Award. Her books are widely read and taught at schools and universities today.

St Augustine College
Dr. Maya Angelou reminds us not to overlook the beauty and drama that exists in the ordinary and even painful times of our lives.

Phenomenal Maya Angelou Visits the Cape
Her grade school teacher, Mrs. Flowers, "started me reading. I read every book in the school library." But after five years of the child not speaking, Mrs. Flowers told her student that she wasn't in love with poetry. "But I was," insisted Dr. Angelou. "I did love poetry, I lived by it."

Then her teacher told her that until she spoke poetry from her own tongue, she would never be in love with poetry. Dr. Angelou knew then that she had to find her voice, "and I went looking for it!"

AKA  Authors
Member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

Angelou's Fight With Poetry
"About three days later five policemen came to my maternal grandmother's house and told her that the man had been found dead. I was there, and it seemed he'd been kicked to death. I thought my voice had killed him, so it was better not to speak - so I simply stopped speaking."

Maya Angelou Entertains
Using the full-range of her talents, Maya Angelou delighted a crowd of more than 2,600 at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

National Women's History Project
Biography Center

A Song Flung up to Heaven
A final chapter:  the last volume of Maya Angelou's Memoirs

I'm Headed for Higher Ground
Angelou's singular life has often been inseparable from crucial episodes of black history, and her talent and triumph is to distil uplifting lessons from both private and national adversity.

Maya Angelou
An autobiographical essay -- this is to be used for pictures only.

Maya Angelou - Images
Using the Google search engine, 102,000 sites were found on the African American author, Maya Angelou.  This shows the immense interest the writer has inspired right up to the present day. 

Maya Angelou - Images
Information for Archive. Photographs etc.

Bio - Chronology
Maya Angelou is a very talented individual , being able to speak the languages of French, Spanish, Italian, and West African Fanti. 

Autobiographical Writing

I Know Why the Cages Bird Sings, 1970  This first part of her autobiographical work documents the life of Marguerite Johnson, (Maya Angelou) growing up with her brother Bailey in Arkansas.

Gather Together in my Name, 1974.  This book deals with the period immediately after the birth of her son Guy and depicts her heroic struggle as a single parent.

Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas, 1976 Describes Angelou's stage debut and concludes with her return from the international tour of Porgy and Bess.                                                                
The Heart of a Woman, 1981. Depicts a totally mature Maya  Angelou. 







I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, 1986.  Documents her four year stay in Ghana.   

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