Who Inspired Maya Angelou To Write

Maya Angelou was an eminent American author, poet, and civil rights activist whose works are renowned for their depth, beauty, and insight. Throughout her life and career, Angelou was inspired by a wide range of people, writers, and activists who provided illuminating and uplifting guidance. One of the most important figures who had an impact on Angelou’s life was her grandmother, Annie Henderson. At around six years old, Angelou was sent to live with her grandmother who led a ministry in the small town of Stamps, Arkansas. Here she was introduced to spiritual and moral values, as well as storytelling and music. Through her relationship with her grandmother, Angelou was able to learn important life lessons and nurture her creative spirit.

Another key figure who inspired Angelou’s work was novelist James Baldwin. In the late 1950s, Baldwin was working on a play in Paris and Angelou came to work for him as a domestic assistant. During her time in Paris, Angelou had the opportunity to observe Baldwin as he wrote and discussed literature with friends. His influence can be seen in her debut work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which is considered by many to be a “turning point” in African-American literature. His influence and support provided the confidence that Angelou needed to begin writing.

Angelou was also heavily influenced and inspired by several powerful civil rights activists. Perhaps most importantly, she was a close friend of human rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who helped awaken Angelou to the injustice in society. Angelou’s visits to King’s church in Atlanta also showed her the power of words—how they could move people to action and effect dramatic social change. This encouraged Angelou to use her own words to fight inequality and create social progress.

The Harlem Renaissance was also a great source of inspiration for Angelou. This literary movement provided her with models of meaningful expression, as well as exploration of themes including race, identity, and politics. The Harlem Renaissance challenged conventional views, and this was particularly important for Angelou since she had been silenced as a child. Through the work of authors and thinkers during this period, she was able to find her voice and realize her power to speak and write about her experiences.

Unlike much of her work, Maya Angelou’s poetry was influenced by romantic, classical European poets such as Shakespeare and Wordsworth. Angelou’s poetic style was shaped by these same poets, though her focus was on exploring her own personal experiences. Angelou’s admiration for the classical poets demonstrated her willingness to experiment and grow as an artist. Additionally, their use of metaphor and alliteration in their works influenced how Angelou wrote her own poetry.

Annie Henderson’s Significant Contribution

One of the individuals who had a major impact on Maya Angelou’s life was Annie Henderson, who was Angelou’s grandmother and guardian. Angelou was about six years old when she moved in with her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. During this time, Angelou was exposed to a range of spiritual and moral values, and Henderson was practically a force of nature in teaching her. These lessons and values served as a pillar of strength for Angelou throughout her life and career.

Henderson’s guidance provided Angelou with a foundation in several aspects of life; Angelou’s creativity was one great example. Henderson was an appreciator of stories, music, give-and-take exchanges, and being able to make one’s point—all qualities which Angelou adopted. Angelou learned how to write her own stories and create her unique voice under the nurturing guidance of her grandmother.

But Henderson’s influence went beyond fostering Angelou’s creativity. Perhaps the key lesson that Angelou learned from her grandmother was the power of words. Henderson told Angelou of the ‘magic’ word, and that it is words which grant us the power to ‘make that flag stay’—in other words, change lives. Thanks to her grandmother, Angelou became an advocate of using her own words to express her innermost thoughts and fight inequality.

Lastly, through Henderson, Angelou was able to gain an understanding of class and race relations. Living in segregated Stamps, Henderson was able to explain the effects of racism on Angelou’s life. As such, Angelou became more aware of this injustice, and this awareness enabled her to grow as a social activist and fight against the racial inequalities that she experienced.

The Uplifting Contributions of James Baldwin

Novelist and activist James Baldwin provided Angelou with an important source of support and encouragement throughout her life and career. Angelou was first hired by Baldwin as an assistant around 1958, when he was working on a play in Paris. Here Angelou witnessed first-hand how Baldwin wrote, discussed literature with his peers, and confronted difficult questions. In essence, Baldwin provided Angelou with an example of how to use her writing for a greater purpose—the power to fight injustice and effect meaningful social change.

Baldwin was also more than just a teacher for Angelou; he was a cherished friend and confidant. Baldwin talked to Angelou about her aspirations, and encouraged her to pursue them without reserve. This provided Angelou with the confidence to begin writing and enabled her to gain recognition for her work. Thus, when Angelou released her debut work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, many deemed it a major breakthrough in African-American literature.

The time Angelou spent with Baldwin was a collaboration of sorts, and it showed in her writing. It is evident that Baldwin’s experience and wisdom flavored Angelou’s own writing. For instance, the symbolism of ‘The Caged Bird’ was very unique to Angelou— though it also echoed in Baldwin’s work. Angelou was able to gain great insight from Baldwin’s work and to draw inspiration from it.

Finally, Angelou learned other important lessons from Baldwin that served her well in her later career. Baldwin taught her the importance of courage and of being honest in her craft. He emphasized the power of truth, and stressed the value of speaking from one’s heart—even when the subject matter is taboo, providing Angelou with outlet to talk about the troubling aspects of her life, such as rape and racism.

The Crucial Role of Civil Rights Activists

Maya Angelou was also deeply affected by several civil rights activists whom she met throughout her life. Martin Luther King Jr. was perhaps the most influential of these leaders. Angelou was not only a close friend of the civil rights leader, but also a willing participant in the fight against the entrenched racism of the time.

Angelou’s visits to King’s church in Atlanta were formative experiences for her, and helped Angelou to come to terms with the oppression she felt due to her race. Earlier in life, Angelou had been silenced by her experiences. King’s church, however, provided her with a refuge to voice her pain and share her message to the congregation. Here, Angelou saw how words alone could spark and fuel social movements.

Other activists that influenced Angelou included Malcom X and Rosa Parks. These figures provided Angelou with practical examples of how to use her own words and her own experiences to fight inequality and create social progress. Together, these leaders showed Angelou that a unified voice, both social and political, was crucial to creating a more just society.

The Influence of the Harlem Renaissance

Maya Angelou was further inspired by the writers and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance. This group provided Angelou with some of the first models in meaningful expression, as well as exploring themes such as race, identity, and politics. Both these writers and thinkers were able to effectively confront the challenges and issues of their era—two of the most famous being Jean Toomer and Langston Hughes.

The work of these writers and thinkers provided an invaluable tool for Angelou, who had been silenced for most of her life. She was able to gain the courage and determination necessary to share her experiences and perspective with the world. This period of literature provided incredibly powerful and moving perspectives on the problem of racism, oppression, and double standards of justice.

The Harlem Renaissance also reinvigorated the African American literary tradition, giving birth to a unique voice that could both represent the experiences of African Americans and challenge the status quo. This was especially important for Angelou—she was able to explore her own personal experiences as a part of a meaningful literary tradition. Thanks to the Harlem Renaissance, Angelou was able to find her own powerful and distinct style.

The Influence of European Poets

Significantly different to the rest of her work, Angelou’s poetry was inspired by a range of classic European poets. These poets included the likes of William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, and Geoffrey Chaucer. Under the influence of these poets, Angelou was able to explore her own personal experiences in a poetic format.

Angelou also drew inspiration from European poets when it came to lending power to her words. These poets employed a range of techniques such as metaphor, assonance and alliteration, which were all tools Angelou used to tell her story in an artistic and effective way. Thus through classic and timeless works, Angelou was able to find her own style and add flair to her writing.

European poets also provided Angelou with themes she could explore, such as the power of love, respect, and honour. Angelou was able to draw on these themes while still finding her own unique voice and resonating with a wide audience. Angelou’s admiration of these poets demonstrated her willingness to experiment and hone her craft.

The Value of Literary Publications

In the end, it was publication of her work which solidified Angelou’s name among the great writers of her time. Early in her career, Angelou wrote poetry, short stories, and songs which she sent to various publications. One particular example was the newsletter The Wide Community, from which Angelou gained recognition for her poetry.

Angelou’s writing was also featured in the American Negro Poetry Anthology, an annual compendium featuring work from African-American writers who wanted to address important matters of the day. This platform gave Angelou a stage from which to bring her own truth to light, allowing her to express her experiences and viewpoints freely.

Angelou’s success in the literary world was due in part to her relationship with Robert Loomis at Random House, the publishing company which released her debut novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Loomis provided Angelou with an unconditional form of support and provided her with the necessary resources to write her subsequent works.

Random House also supported Angelou as she grew into a household name. Rosemary Harris, the director of Random House’s Anchor Publications imprint, assisted Angelou in launching a series of autobiographical works, which brought her greater recognition.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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