Friend and fellow writer urged Angelou to write about her life experiences, resulting in the enormously successful 1969 memoir about her childhood and young adult years, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The poignant story made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. The book, which made Angelou an international star, continues to be regarded as her most popular autobiographical work. In 1995, Angelou was lauded for remaining on The New York Times' paperback nonfiction best-seller list for two years—the longest-running record in the chart's history.
Upon her return, Angelou moved with her son to New York, where she sang at various clubs including the acclaimed Apollo Theater in Harlem. During this time too, Angelou honed her writing skills with the esteemed Harlem Literary Guild, where she made contacts that eventually led to her recognition as producer, director, and performer in Cabaret for Freedom. The off-Broadway revue, produced as a benefit for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), was a collaborative production with comedian Godfrey Cambridge. Angelou's organizational savvy brought her an offer in 1960, to succeed Bayard Rustin as the northern coordinator for the SCLC where, under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, she involved herself in the ongoing struggle for civil rights. In the same year she met and married, South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make. Again, Angelou and Guy moved; this time with Make to Cairo, Egypt where, despite her husband's restrictions, Angelou took a job as associate editor of the Arab Observer. By 1963, Angelou's second marriage was over and, determined to remain in Africa, Angelou moved to Ghana where, in her writings, she states that she felt at home for the first time in her life. In Ghana, Angelou served as an administrator for the School of Music and Drama at the University of Ghana, and acted as feature editor for the African Review. In subsequent works, Angelou speaks of her experiences in the world of business ( Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas, 1976), her emergence as a writer and political activist (The Heart of a Woman, 1981), and the relationship between Africa and black culture in America (All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, 1986). Her books of autobiographical essays, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, and Even the Stars Look Lonesome, speak eloquently of aging, violence, rage, and black women (including her mother and her good friend, Oprah Winfrey). In addition to her obvious love for the spoken word, Angelou's artistic achievements are also evidenced in her numerous television appearances. She was nominated for an Emmy Award for her acting in Roots and Georgia, Georgia, a production which in 1971, also brought her notoriety as the first African- American woman to have an original screenplay produced. Among her numerous impressive honors are a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her works of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Die (1971), And Still I Rise (1976), and her membership in the Directors Guild was another first for African-American females. Included in Angelou's most recent commendations is an unprecedented request by Bill Clinton for her to write and deliver a poem for his 1993 presidential inauguration. Clinton describes Angelou as his favorite living poet. Delivered on January 20, 1993, On the Pulse of Morning, became a best-selling book, as it spoke to the undeniable and ultimate oneness of all individual groups, and challenged listeners to embrace their ability to effect the world positively in small, but often profound ways. The legendary poetess also wrote and delivered a poem for the historical Million Man March.
Another autobiographical work, A Song Flung Up to Heaven explores Angelou’s return from Africa to the U.S. and her ensuing struggle to cope with the devastating assassinations of two human rights leaders with whom she worked, and . The book ends when, at the encouragement of her friend James Baldwin, Angelou began work on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
After experiencing health issues for a number of years, Maya Angelou died on May 28, 2014, at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The news of her passing spread quickly with many people taking to social media to mourn and remember Angelou. Singer and politician were among those who tweeted their favorite quotes by her in tribute. also issued a statement about Angelou, calling her "a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman." Angelou "had the ability to remind us that we are all God's children; that we all have something to offer," he wrote.
Angelou married Tosh Angelos, a sailor of Greek decent, in 1952, but Tosh's atheist ideals grew to be unacceptable to the devoutly religious Maya, and the marriage soon soured. Angelou's characteristic determination to emerge victorious from defeat, led her to a job as a dancer and bar girl in a strip joint where, once again, against all odds, she would reap success in the midst of meager circumstances. A gig as a singer and dancer in a trendy San Francisco club called The Purple Onion followed, and led to a role in a production of Porgy and Bess, with which she toured internationally for nearly a year.
Maya Angelou personifies the resilience of the human spirit. The experiences of her childhood during the 1930's and 1940's in a racially segregated South, ultimately contributed to her philosophy of endurance despite defeat, and nurtured the author, poet, actress, playwright, film director and producer, and civil rights activist that we celebrate today. She is, in the words of her own famous poem, a "phenomenal woman" indeed.
Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri on April 4, 1928. The daughter of Bailey and Vivian Baxter Johnson, Angelou acquired the name Maya from her beloved brother Bailey Jr., who preferred "Maya," to "my sister." When their parent's marriage ended in divorce, young Maya and Bailey were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their paternal grandmother, whom they lovingly called, "Momma." This period in Angelou's life constitutes much of the content in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first and most widely acclaimed in her continuing series of best-selling autobiographies. In this volume, Angelou recounts the chilling incident of her rape at the age of eight by one of her mother's friends during one of Maya's sporadic stays in St. Louis with her estranged mother. It was a violation that forced the devastated child into years of unbroken silence. As an unwed mother at the age of sixteen, Angelou was, nonetheless, bent on self-sufficiency, and took various odd jobs in order to sustain herself and her son Clyde (later known as Guy). Her second autobiography, Gather Together in My Name, chronicles this period of struggle in which Angelou found in dance, the beginnings of what would come to be a heralded and multifaceted career.
Marguerite Annie Johnson Angelou (April 4, 1928 to May 28, 2014), known as Maya Angelou, was an American author, actress, screenwriter, dancer, poet and civil rights activist best known for her 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. Angelou received several honors throughout her career, including two NAACP Image Awards in the outstanding literary work (nonfiction) category, in 2005 and 2009.
Dr. Maya Angelou reminds us not to overlook the beauty and drama that exists in the ordinary and even painful times of our lives.
Her grade school teacher, Mrs. Flowers, "started me reading. I read every book in the school library." But after five years of the child not speaking, Mrs. Flowers told her student that she wasn't in love with poetry. "But I was," insisted Dr. Angelou. "I did love poetry, I lived by it."
Then her teacher told her that until she spoke poetry from her own tongue, she would never be in love with poetry. Dr. Angelou knew then that she had to find her voice, "and I went looking for it!"
. This first part of her autobiographical work documents the life of Marguerite Johnson, (Maya Angelou) growing up with her brother Bailey in Arkansas.