Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, America. “Maya” was the nickname her brother affectionately gave to her. “Maya Angelou” was her stage name, since she started performing (‘Angelou’ was form of her then husband’s surname, Angelopulos).
Angelou wrote seven autobiographies, her most popular one “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” along with 10 volumes of poetry, one poem, “Jus Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘For I Die” was nominated for Pulitzer Prize. She also composed songs for musicals, films and wrote or co-wrote the scripts for more than a dozen plays, films and television programmes.
This Poet, Author, Journalist, Actress, Screenwriter, Dancer, Activist, Fighter, Waitress & Cook came from humble beginnings in a time when African-Americans had no rights.
Angelou is the daughter of a doorman and a nurse, who were divorced when she was 3. She was raped at 8, by her mother’s then boyfriend. He was arrested for only 1 day and four days later, it’s claimed that her uncles murdered him. Maya felt her words killed him, so she stopped speaking for 5 years.
Maya Angelou strongly believed words are “things” and that someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words. Choose your words wisely because they have an effect on you, they are everywhere according to Maya.
By 17 she was a mother from a short lived relationship at 16, and even became a prostitute when times got tough.
All my work, my life, everything I do is about survival, not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated.
She studied african dance at New York City with Trinidadian dancer Pearl Primus and began performing calypso dances at a nightclub where she started using her name, Maya Angelou. She recorded her first album, “Miss Calypso” in 1996 and even performed for an off-broadway production titled “Calypso Heat Wave”.
Traveling across Europe as an editor and freelance writer even holding a position in the University of Ghana at one point in time.
Angelou paved the way for many African-Americans in her lifetime. She was the the first black female cable car conductor, first African-American woman to have her screenplay produced, first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman.
She was good friends with Malcom X and also Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated on her birthday and she stopped celebrating it, sending flowers to his widow instead, for more than 30 years till his widow passed away.
Three Grammy awards, Spingam Medal, National Medal of Arts, a Presidential Medal are just some of her lifetime achievements, not to mention nominations and recognitions from other numerous guilds and establishments.
Marguerite Annie Johnson passed away on May 28 2014 at her home, in North Carolina.
Truly a remarkable life story that can never be summed up in one sitting.
Our Trini ladies and ladies everywhere, should read her story and take from it the strength she had to continue despite the life changing events that many would give up.