Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928,
in St. Louis, Missouri, and was given the name Maya by her older
brother who called her "My" or "Mine." After her
parents' divorce she and her brother were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to
be raised by their paternal grandmother.
In 1940 she and her brother moved to San Francisco to be with
their mother, who had by then remarried. She took drama and dance
lessons. At sixteen years of age, she became a streetcar conductor in
San Francisco. She gave birth to her son, Clyde "Guy"
Johnson, just a few months after graduating from high school in 1945.
At 22, she married Tosh Angelou, a former sailor of Greek descent, but
she left her marriage two and a half years later and set out to become
a professional dancer.
Angelou moved to New York, where she was chosen for a featured
role in a production of George Gershwin's opera "Porgy and Bess"
with this troupe she toured twenty-two countries in Europe and Africa.
She also studied dance with Martha Graham, Pearl Primus and Ann
Halprin, and later performed in many plays and operas. She also served
as a newspaper or magazine editor at different times, and in places
such as Cairo, Egypt
She returned to California in 1966 and wrote "Black,
Blues, Black" (1968), a ten-part television series about the role
of African culture in American life. In 1970 she published her first
book, the autobiographical "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings",
released to wide critical acclaim, it won a nomination for the National
Book Award. "Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie",
1971, a collection of poems, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize
Beginning in 1972 when her screenplay "Georgia,
Georgia" was produced, Angelou saw many of her works become feature
films, becoming the first African-American woman to have a feature film
adapted from one of her own stories. She went on to directed a film, and
even received nominations for her theatrical, as well as cinematic,
By 1986 Angelou had published four more autobiographical volumes:
"Gather Together in My Name", 1974; "Singin' and
Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas", 1976; "he Heart
of a Woman", 1981, about her work with Martin Luther King, Jr.
and Malcolm X; and "All God' s Children Need Traveling
Shoes", 1986, about the complexities of life in Ghana. These are
but a few of many books she has produced, including volumes of poetry
Angelou's many honors included an American Academy of Achievement
Award in 1990 and a Horatio Alger Award in 1992; she also received more
than fifty honorary degrees. Angelou' s work reached its largest single
audience in January 1993 when she recited her poem "On the Pulse of
Morning" at the inauguration of President William Clinton; she was
the first poet to receive such an invitation since Robert Frost in 1961.
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Created: 2/10/01 Updated: 11/26/01