Phenomenal Woman by Maya on her 90th Birthday

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.

Angelou had a difficult childhood. Her parents split up when she was very young, and she and her older brother, Bailey, were sent to live with their father’s mother, Anne Henderson, in Stamps, Arkansas. As an African American, Angelou experienced firsthand racial prejudices and discrimination in Arkansas. She also suffered at the hands of a family associate around the age of seven: During a visit with her mother, Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Then, as vengeance for the sexual assault, Angelou’s uncles killed the boyfriend. So traumatized by the experience, Angelou stopped talking. She returned to Arkansas and spent years as a virtual mute.


Photo by Deborah Feingold. Corbis Entertainment (GettyImages)

Did you know:
– She became the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco, California, in the 1940s.

– She gave birth to her son in 1944 at the  tender age of 16.

– In 1952, Maya Angelou married a Greek sailor named Anastasios Angelopulos, from whom she took her professional name.

– Angelou spent much of the 1960s abroad, living first in Egypt and then in Ghana, working as an editor and a freelance writer.

– She recited one of her poems at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inaugural ceremony—marking the first inaugural recitation since 1961.

– In 1961, Angelou appeared in an off-Broadway production of Jean Genet’s The Blacks with James Earl Jones, Lou Gossett Jr. and Cicely Tyson.

– Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on friend Maya Angelou’s birthday (April 4) in 1968. Angelou stopped celebrating her birthday for years afterward.

– She published several collections of poetry, but her most famous was 1971’s collection Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

– She is the first African-American woman to have her screenplay produced, for the 1972 film Georgia, Georgia.

– 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.

– She was lauded in 1995 for her record-setting, two-year run on The New York Times’ paperback nonfiction best-seller list.

– Angelou’s career has seen numerous accolades, including the Chicago International Film Festival’s 1998 Audience Choice Award and a nod from the Acapulco Black Film Festival.


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