Authors Profiles

Women with Words: Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014)

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou is widely regarded as one of the great voices of contemporary black literature. Her ability to capture the moment through the idiosyncracies of language makes her poetry and prose unique in its form. Her personal experiences and social commentary blend into a work of art that raises awareness in our society today.

Born Marguerite Johnson, Maya Angelou grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and then attended school in Stamps, Arkansas and San Francisco, California. By the time she was in her early twenties, Angelou had already worked as a Creole cook, a waitress, a dancer, and a street car conductor. She began writing and became a national celebrity when the first installment of her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was published in 1970. Caged Bird dealt with Angelou’s experiences with southern racism, sexual assault and growing up while shuffling between two towns until she was sixteen. Since its publication, Angelou has written five more installments.  Flung Up to Heaven (2002), takes the reader through the assassination of Malcolm X, riots on the streets of Watts, her work with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the beginning of her work on Caged Bird.

In 1993, Angelou read her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” at the presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton. Afterward she published a collection of prose on a variety of subjects, titled Even the Stars Look Lonesome (1997) and The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (1994).  Angelou made her way into film as well, directing Down in the Delta in 1996.

Maya Angelou made a donation of over 340 boxes of notes, archives, memorabilia, and personal papers to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in 2010.  Her final book was published in 2013 when she was 85.

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