Maya Angelou Biography


This is a biography of Maya Angelou poet, author, and civil rights activist among many other things. Ms. Angelou’s inspiring life moves from a troubled childhood to become one of the most important icons in the literary world and in global human rights movements.

Talbot Troy [CC BY 2.0 (]

Quick Facts:

Name: Maya Angelou
Occupation: Poet, Civil Rights Activist, Author, Dancer
Date of Birth: April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri
Death Date: May 28, 2014 in Winston-Salem, North
Internationally Acclaimed Author of: “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”

Who is Maya Angelou?

Maya Angelou was an accomplished civil rights activist, poet and writer. Despite facing many low points in her life, she still became the amazing, transcendent woman we know today. In her first work, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, Angelou describes her childhood elaborately. She speaks about the tribulations and challenges of being a mother at the young age of 16. Maya shows her transformation from suffering segregation and later an inferiority complex to becoming a strong and accomplished woman, capable of handling and overcoming trauma and prejudice.

Her Childhood

Maya Angelou was originally named Marguerite Johnson by her parents. Unfortunately, her
parents broke up while she was still young. Bailey, the elder brother that gave her the name “Maya” moved with her to their grandmother’s home in Arkansas, where she operated a general store.

Their grandmother took care of the two, giving special attention to Angelou. She focused on helping her develop her self-esteem and confidence.

At the age of eight, while on a visit to her mother in St. Louis, young Angelou was raped by her mother’s then-boyfriend. This was a harrowing ordeal for her and tore her self-confidence and pride apart. Despite the emotional and physical impact the rape and aftermath had on her, Angelou went testified against the man in court. Her testimony infuriated her uncles who took the law into their own hands and murdered him.


The devastated Angelou blamed herself for the murder and struggled with the guilt for years. She hardly spoke to anyone for about five consecutive years because she believed her voice had the power to take away life and she couldn’t live with that. This incident gave her a broader insight in life because in her silence she became more observant of the world and things around her which she attributes to making the imagery in her later writing so vivid. After graduating from high school in California, she did different jobs including a car conductor, waitress, fry cook, and dancer. Her dancing and acting skills were revered by many. She even went to Europe after being cast in the opera Porgy and Bess.

Maya as a Civil Rights activist

Maya was actively involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The Rev. Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr is one of the civil rights icons she worked closely with. King entrusted her with the position of the Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the main support institution for King and the civil rights movement of that time period. But the murder of King on April 4, 1968, put Angelou into severe emotional turmoil. Angelou never lost touch with Coretta Scott King in the years that followed his assassination.Later, Angelou worked with Malcolm X, a human rights activist and equally pivotal to Dr. King Jr., civil rights champion seeking change. With time Angelou became a popular face in the civil rights movement. Malcolm X’s assassination again plunged her in total devastation. Throughout her career, she pushed for the rights and dignity of African-Americans and women.

Famous works as a writer (Received awards for some)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

A Song Flung Up To Heaven

All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes

The Heart of a Woman


And I Still Rise

Just Give Me A Cool Drink of Water ‘For I Die

And Still Rise


Even the Stars Look Lonesome

Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now


Maya died at the age of 86. She continued writing, speaking, and her advocacy to the causes she believed in until the very end.

Interesting facts

• She was the first woman to ever work as a streetcar conductor in San Francisco
•“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is recognized as the best-selling piece by an African-
American woman.
•In 1973, she was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in the play Look Away.
•Worked at Wake Forest University as a full-time professor
•Recited a poem during Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration in 1993
•She was awarded more than 50 honorary degrees from different universities


PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.


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