Maya Angelou, born April 4, 1928 as Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, was raised in segregated rural Arkansas. She is a poet, historian, author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director. She lectures throughout the US and abroad and is Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina since 1981. She has published ten best selling books and numerous magazine articles earning her Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award nominations. At the request of President Clinton, she wrote and delivered a poem at his 1993 presidential inauguration. Dr. Angelou, who speaks French, Spanish, Italian and West African Fanti, began her career in drama and dance. She married a South African freedom fighter and lived in Cairo where she was editor of The Arab Observer, the only English-language news weekly in the Middle East. In Ghana, she was feature editor of The African Review and taught at the University of Ghana. In the 1960s, at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ms. Angelou became the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She was appointed by President Gerald Ford to the Bicentennial Commission and by President Jimmy Carter to the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year. 

Maya Angelou, poet, was among the first African-American women to hit the bestsellers lists with her "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." She held the Great Hall audience spellbound with stories of her own childhood. She ranged from story to poem to song and back again, and her theme was love and the universality of all lives. "The honorary duty of a human being is to love," Angelou said. She spoke of her early love for William Shakespeare's works, and offered her audience excerpts from the poems of several African-Americans, including James Weldon Johnson and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. But always, she came back to love - and humanity. "I am human,; Angelou said, quoting from her own work, "and nothing human can be alien to me."

In the sixties, at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she became the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and in 1975 she received The Ladies Home Journal Woman of the Year Award in communications. She received numerous honorary degrees and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the National Commission on the Observance of International Woman's Year and by President Ford to the American Revolutionary Bicentennial Advisory Council. She is on the board of the American Film Institute and is one
of the few female members of the Director's Guild.

In the film industry, through her work in script writing and directing, Maya Angelou has been a groundbreaker for black women. In television, she has made hundreds of appearances. Her best-selling autobiographical account of her youth, "I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings," won critical acclaim in 1970 and was a two-hour TV special on CBS. She has written and produced several prize winning documentaries, including "Afro-Americans in the Arts," a PBS special for which she received the Golden Eagle Award. She was also nominated for an Emmy Award for her acting in Roots, and her screenplay "Georgia, Georgia" was the first by a black woman to be filmed. In theatre, she produced, directed and starred in "Cabaret for Freedom" in collaboration with Godfrey Cambridge at New York's Village Gate; starred in Genet's "The Blacks"; at St Mark's Playhouse; and adapted Sophocles "Ajax" which premiered in Los Angeles in 1974. She wrote the original screenplay for "Georgia, Georgia" and wrote and produced a 10-part TV series on African traditions in American life. Maya Angelou is currently Reynolds Professor at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.


Phenomenal Woman

Still I Rise



A Conceit

Touched By An Angel

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Passing Time

The Lesson

When You Come To Me


www.Maya Angelou Dedication

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

Circle Association's Maya Angelou Page

www.Maya Angelou Home

www.WIC Biography Maya

www.Maya Angelou Information/inspiration

www.Maya Angelou: Teachers Resource


www.Karenís Maya Angelou


Angelou'sfirst work of literature, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, is anautobiography. Angelou's sometimes disruptive life inspired her to write this book. It truly reflects the essence of her struggle to overcome the restrictions that were placed upon her in a hostile environment. Angelou writes with a twist of lyrical imagery along with a touch of realism. The title of this book is taken from the poem "sympathy" by the great black poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar. Sidonie Ann Smith praised Angelou, saying that, "like Richard Wright, she opens with a primal childhood scene that brings into focus the nature of the imprisoning environment from which the self will seek escape" (Smith 10). This work displays on impulse towards transcendence and is one of the most aesthetically satisfying autobiographies written by a black woman.

Her second book, Gather Together In My Name, centers on Angelou and her brother's move away from their
grandmother. This transition takes place from her later teen years through her mid twenties, focusing on her experiences as a mother, a Creole cook, a madam, a tap dancer, a prostitute and a chauffeurette. Also in the novel, Angelou writes about an affair with a customer at a restaurant and her brief experience with drugs. Annie Gottlieb states that Angelou "writes like a song, and like the truth" (Gottlieb 23). Another reader, Doris Grumbach, states, "it is apparent that Angelou is keen, sharp, earthy, imaginative, lyrical, spiritually bold, and seems destined for
distinction" (Grumbach 12). But according to Frank L. Phillips, "Maya Angelou is not the stylist that Himes is,
nor a Richard Wright" (Phillips 12). Angelou concludes this book with an appeal to her audience for forgiveness for
the accounts of her wretched past.

Angelou's third novel, Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas, covers about five years of her life
from the ages of 22 to 27. During this period she was married to Tosh Angelos, an ex-sailor who is intelligent, kind, reliable and white. He was a temporary source of stability for herself and her son, but after five years of marriage she found that she wasn't suited for it. She divorced him and returned to her career as a dancer. Shortly afterwards she joined the European touring production of Porgy and Bess. She devotes over half the book to describing the tour. She talks about how the guilt over her neglect of her son nearly drove her to suicide, but her love for life and of motherhood and of dancing sent her running home. June Jordon states that this novel "frequently borders on a light and fantastical style of comic opera.....that is sometimes delightful reading, and sometimes not" (Jordan 13). In Alleen P. Nilsen's opinion "this book might make an exciting introduction to Angelou's poetry" (Nilsen 14).

The title of her fourth novel The Heart of a Women, comes from a poem that was written during the Harlem
Renaissance by the poet Georgia Douglas Johnson. Once again Angelou is in search of her identity and place. This book focuses largely from the perspective and psychological depth that almost matches the quality of the first novel. Now in her thirties, Angelou reflects on her son Guy, the civil rights movement, marriage, and her own writing. During this period she becomes more committed to her writings and is inspired by her friend, John Killens, a distinguished social activist author. Also during that time she made a commitment to promote black civil rights examining the nature of racial oppression, racial progress and racial integration. Adam David Miller states that this is a book that "covers one of the most exciting periods in recent African and Afro-American history" (Miller 23).

Angelou's fifth autobiography, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, exemplifies an awareness of an even greater sense of connectedness with her African past. She dedicates this book to Julian Mayfield and Malcolm X who both were passionately and earnestly in search of their symbolic home. After her visit to Ghana she became immediately swept into an adoration for the homeland that she adopted as her own. She states, "our people had always longed for home....In the yearning, heaven and Africa were inextricably combined....So I had finally come home." (pg. 19) One reviewer, Barbara T. Christian describes the book as "a thoughtful yet spirited account of one Afro-American woman's journey into the land of her ancestors." She goes on to say that it is "an important document drawing more much needed attention to the hidden history of a people both African and American." Also according to Barbara T. Christian, "Angelou's sojourn in Africa strengthens her bond to her ancestral home even as she concretely experiences her distinctiveness as an Afro-American" (Christian 23).

Maya Angelou speaks numerous languages fluently and has traveled abroad to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. She has worked as a journalist for foreign publications and has been honored by the academic world, receiving the Yale University Fellowship and being named a Rockefeller Foundation Scholar in Italy. She has taught at the University of Ghana, the University of Kansas, and currently holds a lifetime chair as Z. Smith Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. Among her many accomplishments are the Woman of the Year Award in Communications of the Ladies' Home Journal and nominations for the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Awards. Maya Angelou is a wonderful speaker and is highly sought after on the lecture circuit.

The life and work of Maya Angelou are fully intertwined. Angelou's poetry and personal narratives form a larger picture wherein the symbolic Maya Angelou rises to become a point of consciousness for African-American people, and especially for black women seeking to survive masculine prejudice, white illogical hate, and Black lack of power. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings has generated a wealth of critical literature as well as solid recognition for Maya Angelou. Many liked The Heart of a Women; it has also received critical acclaim. In any case all of Maya
Angelou's autobiographical novels are widely read and taught in schools and universities and continue to inspire lively critical responses. Angelou's poetry and screenplays are less well known and critics have not been generous when it comes to criticizing them. Some have referred to her poetry as "too simple" and suggest that they are unworthy of inclusion in the established canon of American poetry, which is a body of literature that is largely written by white men and women. But Angelou's audiences, composed mostly of black women, aren't affected by what white critics have to say about her work. Angelou's response to her critics may be, "If that canon, that body of literature written largely by white men, acknowledges my work, then well and good. I accept this honor" (7).


Copyright 2002 Seodial S. Deena