Maya Angelou, the poet, author, actress, and civil rights activist, was born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. She was named after her mother, but was known as Maya from her childhood after her brother’s mispronunciation of her real name. Her parents divorced shortly after her birth, and due to the circumstances of that time, she and her brother were sent to Stamps, Arkansas to be raised by their grandmother. Despite the difficulties endured in her childhood, Angelou was an extraordinarily gifted student who learned to read and write at a young age.
At the age of 14, Angelou’s life was quite tumultuous. Tragically, three years prior, her father was murdered. This experience had a profound effect on her life, as she admitted that his death further propelled her already-heightened understanding of the brutal realities of racism and segregation. Angelou moved to San Francisco with her mother and brother at 14, where she attended high school and began experimenting with many activities, including dancing, music, and painting. Additionally, Angelou developed an interest in poetry, which would become her eventual calling.
At 17, Angelou experienced an unplanned pregnancy and in the 1950s, when abortion was illegal in the United States, gave birth to her son, Guy Johnson. Despite her son’s birth overshadowing an academic career, Angelou juggled many occupations and excelled in several. As a result of her prodigious accomplishments, Angelou was awarded several honorary doctorates in literature, and was even nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for her collection of poetry Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water Fore I Diiie.
Angelou was also a prominent figure in the American civil rights movement. She was a close friend and confidante of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and even served as his coordinator during the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march. Additionally, Angelou wrote and narrated a speech called A Brave and Startling Truth for the United Nations, which was broadcast around the world commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations in 1995.
Overall, Angelou is recognized for her immense contributions to literature, the civil rights movement, and the world of poetry. Her first poetry collections in the early 1960s quickly catapulted her to fame. One of her best-known collections, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which she finished in 1969, was a New York Times best seller, and is today a classic of literature. Her works have earned her countless awards and honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was presented by President Barack Obama in 2011.
The Rise of Angelou’s Popularity
Angelou quickly rose to greater prominence after the publication of her bestselling novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which remains her most popular and oft-referenced work. Her poetic style, which often includes themes of racial injustice and self-reflection, catapulted her to the top of the literary world. Additionally, all of her published work, from her poetry collections to her memoirs, all included powerful messages for social justice and inspiring narratives of resilience, even in times of adversity.
The immense success of Angelou’s works has been a truly remarkable thing to observe. She has been cited by incredible figures such as Joseph Campbell and Maya Angelou herself, with the latter citing her books in lectures around the world. Additionally, Angelou has been inducted into several different academies, including the Academy of American Poets and many more. In addition, she wrote an autobiography, A Song Flung Up To Heaven, which won wide spread acclaim, and provided a detailed account of her life up until that point.
Angelou was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2011, in recognition of her impressive accomplishments. In her passing, the world lost a great force of knowledge, wit, and profound wisdom. Her legacy will continue to inspire generations to come.
Angelou’s Political Involvement
In addition to her remarkable contributions to literature, Angelou was also an active participant in the American civil rights movement. She was a close friend and collaborator of Martin Luther King Jr., and served as his coordinator of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march. As a result of her political stand, Angelou was even featured in newspapers and magazines during the civil rights era, and garnered massive support from supporters of the civil rights movement.
As well as the political sphere, Angelou also had many opportunities to collaborate with musical leaders of the time, and even wrote lyrics for a few songs. Her song “Cabaret” was even featured in the Soundtrack of the film Calypso Heat Wave in 1957. She was also part of the Harlem Writer’s Guild, where she collaborated with prominent African American poets and authors, and developed a deep understanding of both the literary and the political world while in the company of smart and passionate individuals.
Angelou was a household name in the civil rights movement known for her political involvement, her witty and inspiring words, and her courageous actions. She served as a mentor to many of the great civil rights leaders of the time, and even marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. at the same march for which she had coordinated. She was an fervent believer in the power of words to change the world, and inspired many to use them to fight for justice and social change.
Today, the world still remembers the immense contributions of Maya Angelou and her potential for inspiring and changing the lives of so many people. From her incredible books and poems to her presence in the civil rights movement, she left an indelible mark on the world. Though she may have passed away in 2014, her words still live on and her works continue to inspire and influence readers of all ages and backgrounds.
The incredible impact Angelou’s works have had has not only been felt in literature, but also in the film world. The Academy Award-winning documentary I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was released in 2019, based on a screenplay Angelou had been in the process of writing prior to her passing. The film, produced and directed by Angelou’s son Guy Johnson, stands as a testament to her legacy and the greatness of her accomplishments.
It’s amazing to think about how much Angelou achieved throughout her life. Her books and poetry continue to move and inspire readers today. In many ways, she was ahead of her time due to the importance of her message, which was to look beyond the boundaries of race and embrace acceptance and love. As a result, her works have been an invaluable beacon of hope and inspiration to many. Her legacy will continue to live on in the hearts and minds of all who display courage, resilience, and determination.
Angelou’s Connections to the Arts
Though her claim to fame was her works in literature, Angelou was also deeply involved in the world of music and theater. She had the opportunity to work with remarkable musicians and even wrote lyrics for a few songs, including “Cabaret,” which was featured in the film Calypso Heat Wave in 1957. She was also part of the African American theater scene in San Francisco in the 1950s, and was part of the improvisational theater group the Sun Raiders, which included her fellow writers and activists such as James Baldwin and Malcolm X.
Angelou’s influence and connection to the arts goes beyond her lyrics and plays. She was an exceptionally gifted singer, which can be heard in her album Gather Together in My Name. She was able to use her singing ability to bring her stories to life and to move audiences around the world. Additionally, she was a remarkable actress and appeared in multiple television shows and films, including Roots, How to Make an American Quilt, and Madea’s Family Reunion.
Overall, Angelou’s involvement in music, theater, and film further proves her immense talent and versatility. She used her rich and varying skill set to create works of beauty and inspiration, and to spread messages of resilience, self-love, acceptance, and ultimately, freedom.
Awards and Accomplishments
In acknowledgement of her lifelong achievements in literature, the civil rights movement, and the world of poetry, Angelou was awarded numerous awards and honours. She was inducted into several academies and institutions, such as the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993, and the Academy of American Poets in 1994. Additionally, she was one of the few authors to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for her collection of poetry Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water Fore I Diiie.
Angelou was also awarded numerous honorary doctorates in literature and a Tony Award nomination. Additionally, she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Women’s Project in 2000, the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2011, and the National Medal of Arts in 2013. She was also the first African American woman to be featured on a U.S. coin when the Mint released a commemorative silver dollar in 2015.
In addition to national awards and honors, Angelou has also won a number of literary awards, including the National Book Award and the Poet Laureate Award. Her acclaimed work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings won the Literarian Award, given by the American Library Association in 2008. She was also given the Harlem Arts Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award.
In conclusion, Maya Angelou was a remarkable human being of immense talent and influence whose influence and legacy can still be felt today. Her words continue to inspire and move readers of all ages and backgrounds, and her contribution to literature, the civil rights movement, and the world of poetry still resonates. Even after her passing in 2014, her impact still lingers.