April 4, 1928-May 28,2014
Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Ann Johnson; April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014) was an American author and poet. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning more than fifty years. She received dozens of awards and over thirty honorary doctoral degrees. Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her life up to the age of seventeen, and brought her international recognition and acclaim.
She became a poet and writer after a series of occupations as a young adult, including fry cook, prostitute, night-club dancer and performer, cast-member of the opera Porgy and Bess, coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the days of decolonization. She was an actor, writer, director, and producer of plays, movies, and public television programs. Since 1982, she taught at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she holds the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies. She was active in the Civil Rights movement, and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Since the 1990s she made around eighty appearances a year on the lecture circuit, something she continued into her eighties. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at President Bill Clinton's inauguration, the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961.
With the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou publicly discussed aspects of her personal life. She was respected as a spokesperson of black people and women, and her works have been considered a defense of black culture. Although attempts have been made to ban her books from some US libraries, her works are widely used in schools and universities worldwide. Angelou's major works have been labeled as autobiographical fiction, but many critics have characterized them as autobiographies. She made a deliberate attempt to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre. Her books center on themes such as racism, identity, family, and travel. Angelou is best known for her autobiographies, but she is also an established poet, although her poems have received mixed reviews.
Maya Angelou was one of the most influential and inspirational women of our time. My favorite poem, Still I Rise, lyrics:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
Just because I walk as if I have oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like suns and like moons,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my sassiness offend you?
Don't take it so hard just because I laugh
As if I have gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.
You can shoot me with your words,
You can cut me with your lies,
You can kill me with your hatefulness,
But just like life, I'll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance as if I have diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history's shame
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
A black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling, I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak miraculously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the hope and the dream of the slave,
And, so naturally
Still I Rise, Maya Angelou
Love Liberates, Maya Angelou
Maya even wrote and performed Calypso music.
“Music was my refuge,” the renowned author and poet Maya Angelou once said. “I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”
While her powerful speaking voice was instantly recognizable, not everyone remembers that she was a skillful singer as well.
Angelou — born Marguerite Johnson – was a professional calypso dancer in the 1950s, and adopted the stage name “Maya Angelou” to distinguish herself from the competition.
At the age of 29, she cut the 1957 album Miss Calypso, singing her own compositions over guitar, bongos, and congas. The style was en vogue at the time, thanks to artists like Harry Belafonte (“The Banana Boat Song”). In addition to originals like “Donkey City,” “Neighbor, Neighbor” and “Mambo In Africa,” Angelou recorded songs by Nat King Cole (“Calypso Blues”), Louis Jordan (“Run Joe”) and Wilmouth Houdini (“Stone Cold Dead In The Market”) for the album.
Run Joe, Maya Angelou