BY WALTER OPINDE
One of the most prominent African-Americans who will forever be remembered for her multi-diversified career is Maya Angelou. She grew up to be a famous poet, playwright, dancer, singer, actress, and indeed, a great author and civil activist.
Born on 4th April 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, Maya’s birth name was Anne Marguerite Johnson; parented by Baily Johnson Sr. (father) and Vivian Baxter (mother). She was later nicknamed by her younger brother- Bailey Jr. as ‘Maya’ since he was still young and was unable to pronounce her first name ‘Marguerite’ quite well. This name-change later proved to be critical in Maya’s career life. As a young adult, she became a poet and writer after several occupations that proved unrewarding.
Maya’s five decades of career included the publication of 36 books, which included three book essays and large volumes of poetry. She is acknowledged for several play productions and acting, participating in musicals, TV shows, and movies. Angelou is, however, best known for her first autobiographical work, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings- 1969.” She designed this book to portray or depict her life tragedies, especially during her traumatic childhood, including the detailed account of her brutal rape experience at only about eight years by her mother’s boyfriend, and teenage pregnancy encounters. This book immediately became a bestseller, bringing Maya Angelou to the world’s limelight. Throughout her career of writing books of essays and poetry, alongside acting in movies, plays, and television shows, Maya received several awards, including approximately 51 honorary degrees.
By 1968, Maya was asked by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to organize a march; however, the plans were interrupted by King’s assassination on 4th April 1968, an event that occurred exactly on her 40th Birthday. Maya got discouraged and vowed never to celebrate the date again in her life. However, she was encouraged by her long-term friend and fellow writer- James Baldwin to overcome her griefs through writing. As such, by doing what she could do best, Maya wrote, narrated, and produced a ten-part documentary series- ‘Blacks, Blues, Black!’ in which she portrayed the link between the black heritage and blues music.
Maya’s relationships and marriages did not bear fruits, including her 1973 marriage with Paul du Feu- the Welsh writer and cartoonist, which ended seven years later in an amicable divorce by 1980. Even though, these issues of marriages and relationships were bitter pills that Angelou could not afford to speak openly to the public.
For decades, Angelou remained at the top of American and world’s publicity for her great literary works, arts, and participation in American activism. Regardless of the limited educational pursuit at high school level, she obtained several awards including the 2000 Presidential Medal of Arts, 2008 Lincoln Medal, 2011 Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, 2013 Mailer Prize for Lifetime Achievements, and finally, the 2013 Libertarian Award from the National Book Foundation. Angelou was eventually given a world-class send-off after her death on 28th May 2014.
Read more of the original story via: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/maya-angelou