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Who Is Maya Angelou: A Biography

Written by: Elizabeth Lindsey

Dr. Maya Angelou was born, Marguerite Johnson on April 24, 1928 in St Louis, Missouri. Her parents divorced when she was three years old. She, along with her brother Bailey, went to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas.

While visiting her mother in Chicago, Illinois at the age of seven, Maya was molested by her mother's boyfriend. She confided in her brother who told the family. Consequently, the man was murdered. Maya felt so guilty that for five years she remained mute.

Maya Angelou won a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco's Labor School. She dropped out at the age of 14 to become the fist female African American cable car conductor. Although she returned later to complete school, she became pregnant in her senior year and gave birth to her son, Guy, a few weeks after her graduation.

After graduation, she took on many menial jobs to raise her son. Singing and dancing, and writing were in her heart, though. She met and married Tosh Angelos, a Greek sailor. She took the name Maya (her brother's nickname for her) Angelou (a variation of her husband's name) when she became a nightclub singer. Although the marriage didn't last, she kept the name.

She traveled throughout Europe in the mid 1950's with a dance troupe performing in a production of "Porgy and Bess." In 1957 she did a recording of "Calypso Lady" for her first album. She also wrote and performed "Cabaret for Freedom."

Wanting to hone her skills as a writer, she joined the Harlem Writers Guild in 1958 in New York. She subsequently became active in the Civil Rights Movement. She met and married the South African civil rights activist, Vusumzi Make in 1960. They moved to Cairo, Egypt where she became the editor of an English weekly newspaper.

Maya and her son later moved to Ghana where she was an assistant administrator and instructor at the University of Ghana's School for Music and Drama. She was also and editor for The African Review and wrote for various publications.

Maya returned to the United States in 1964. She accepted the invitation from Dr Martin Luther King invited to serve as the Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Dr King was assassinated on her birthday in 1968.

Maya's first published book, "I know Why the Caged Bird Sings", is the first of five autobiographical volumes and tells of her trials and tribulations as a young girl. She continues to write and act for television and film and in 1996 directed the film "Down in the Delta."

She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her 1972 screenplay, Georgia, Georgia. She won the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000 and The Lincoln medal in 2008. She has also won three Grammy awards.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton asked Dr Maya Angelou to write and recite a poem for him at his inauguration. Her beautiful poem, "On the Pulse of the Morning", was broadcast worldwide.

Bibliography:

Autobiographies:
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970)
Gather Together in My Name (1974)
Singin' and Swingin' and Getting' Merry Like Christmas (1978)
The Heart of a Woman (1981)
All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986)
A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002)

Other Works:
Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Die (1971)
And Still I Rise (1978)
Now Sheba Sings the Song (1987)
I Shall Not Be Moved (1990)
On the Pulse of Morning (1993)
A Brave and Startling Truth (1995)
Phenomenal Woman (1995)
Even the Stars Look Lonesome (1997)
Letter to My Daughter (2008)

I am a voracious reader and decided to write biographies starting with my favorite authors. To read more author biographies, please go to: More author biographies

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