TOP SELLING AFRICAN AMERICAN AUTHOR, MAYA ANGELOU, (I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS!)
Updated: Jul 4
TOP SELLING AFRICAN AMERICAN AUTHOR
MAYA ANGELOU, I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS!
Marguerite Annie Johnson was born in St. Louis Missouri, on April 4, 1928, the second child of Bailey Johnson, a doorman and navy dietitian and Vivian (Baxter) Johnson, a nurse and card dealer. Her older brother, Bailey Jr., nicknamed her “Maya”, derived from “My” or “Mya sister”. When Maya was three and her brother four, their parents’ “calamitous marriage” ended, and their father sent them to Stamps, Arkansas, alone, by train to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson. In “an astonished exception” to the harsh economics of African Americans of the time, Maya’s grandmother prospered financially during the Great Depression and World War II because the general store she owned sold needed basic commodities and because “she made wise and honest investments”.
Unfortunately, four years later, the children’s father “came to Stamps without warning” and returned them to St. Louis to their mother’s care. At the age of eight, while living with her mother, Maya was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend, a man named Freeman. She told her brother, who told the rest of their family. Freeman was found guilty but was jailed for only one day. Four days after his release, he was murdered, probably by Maya’s uncles. Maya became mute for almost five years, believing, as she stated, “I thought my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone.” According to her biographer and other colleagues who later wrote her biography, it was during this period of silence when Maya developed her extraordinary memory, her love for books and literature, and her ability to listen and observe the world around her.
Shortly after the murder of her rapist, Maya and her brother were sent back to their grandmother. Under the tender care of her grandmother and a teacher and family friend, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, she began to speak again. Mrs. Flowers also introduced her to authors such Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Georgia Douglas Johnson, James Weldon Johnson and other authors as well as other black authors and artists who would influence her life and career.
THE YEARS, 1951 TO 1961, ADULTHOOD AND EARLY CAREER
In 1951, she married Tosh Angelos, a Greek electrician, former sailor, and aspiring musician. During this time she took modern dance classes and met fellow dancers and choreographers Alvin Ailey and Ruth Beckford. Alvin and Maya formed a dance team called “Al and Rita”. They performed around San Francisco at fraternal black organizations but never became successful. Maya and her husband, and her son moved to New York City so she could study African dance with Trinidadian dancer Pearl Primus, but they returned to San Francisco a year later.
In 1954 as her marriage to Tosh Angelos ended in divorce, she became a popular calypso dancer in clubs around San Francisco including the popular nightclub THE PURPLE ONION. Up to that point in her life she went by the name of “Marguerite Johnson”, or “Rita”, but at the suggestion of managers and supporters at THE PURLE ONION, she changed her name to “Maya Angelou” (her nickname and former married name”. it was a “distinctive name” that set her apart and captured the feel of her calypso dance performances. During the years 1954 and 1955, Maya toured Europe with a production of Porgy and Bess. While on her tours of Europe she began learning the language of each country she visited, and in a few years she gained proficiency in several languages.
In 1959, she was persuaded to move to New York by novelist John Oliver Killens to concentrate and develop her writing career. She joined the Harlem Writers Guild, where she met several major African American authors in the area. It was at this time that she became very politically active, especially after meeting Dr. Martin Luther King. She became active in many civil rights movement organizations and activities.
THE YEARS 1961 TO 1969, EGYPT, AFRICA TO CAGED BIRD
Most of these years were spent out of the country either in Egypt or Africa. She became acquainted with South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make, they never officially married but moved to Cairo, Egypt. She worked as an associate editor at the weekly English-language newspaper, The Arab Observer. As her relationship with Make ended, she and her son move to Accra, Ghana so Guy could attend college, but he was seriously injured in an automobile accident. As they lived in Accra, she worked as an administrator at the University of Ghana, and was also very active in the African-American expatriate community. She also kept busy by working as a feature editor for the African Review, also a freelance writer for the Ghanaian Times, wrote and broadcast for Radio Ghana, as well as acting in Ghana’s National Theater. A very busy lady!
While in Accra, she became close friends with Malcom X. She returned to the U. S. to help him build a new civil rights organization. He was assassinated shortly thereafter.
Ironically, in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asked Maya for help in organizing a march, but in what her biographer calls “a macabre twist of fate”, Dr. King was assassinated on her 40th birthday, April 4, 1968 in Memphis Tennessee.
THE CHRONOLOGY OF HER AUTOBIOGRAPHIES:
From 1969 to 2013 she wrote a series of seven autobiographies covering her life and experiences, They are as follows:
· I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS (1969) Up to 1944 (Age 17)
· GATHER TOGETHER IN MY NAME (1974) 1944-48
· SINGIN’ AND SWINGIN’ AND GETTIN’ MERRY LIKE CHRISTMAS (1976)
· THE HEART OF A WOMAN (1976) 1957-62
· ALL GOD’S CHILDREN NEED TRAVELING SHOES (1986) 1962-65
· A SONG FLUNG UP TO HEAVEN (2002) 1965-68
· MOM & ME & MOM (2013) OVERVIEW
In addition to her popular writings, Maya’s successful acting career included roles in several plays, films, and television programs, including her appearance in the television mini-series ROOTS in 1977.
Maya died on the morning of May 28, 2014 at the age of 86. She was found by her nurse. Although she had reportedly been in poor health and had canceled recent scheduled appearances, she was working on another book, another chapter in her autobiography about her experiences with national and world leaders. During her memorial service at Wake Forest University, her son Guy Johnson stated that despite being in constant pain due to her dancing career and respiratory failure, she wrote four books during the last ten years of her life. He said, “She left this mortal plane with no loss of acuity and no loss in comprehension.”
This information was retrieved from “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index/.php?title=Maya_Angelou&oldid=962763942.
Official website (http://www.mayaangelou.com
I have always been so impressed with this great lady. As I think of the early life traumatic experiences she went through she could have been much different, especially as I think of even a brief period of time she was a (sex worker or prostitute) as the article states. Instead, she became great in many ways. I also loved her humor, which was exhibited every time she spoke.
We all know she became a prolific writer, however, I would like to relate three very humorous quotes related to her writing.
First, in 1989, she said: “Nothing so frightens me as writing, but nothing so satisfies me. It’s like a swimmer in the English Channel: you face the stingrays and waves and cold and grease, and finally you reach the other shore, and you put your foot on the ground ---- Aaaahhh!
She also said: “I also wear a hat or a very tightly pulled head tie when I write. I suppose I hope by doing that I will keep my brains from seeping out of my scalp and running in great gray blobs down my neck, into my ears, and over my face.
Another one: “I like to make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music.”
We hope you have enjoyed reading this article about the great African American author, MAYA ANGELOU.
As we have mentioned, she was a very prolific author as well as a very talented actress and had a very fun personality.
Check out her works on our links to LEARN OUT LOUD ay the top of the page.
Thank you for reading our article as we endeavor to ‘ENCOURAGE LITERACY, LEARNING AND PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT