Maya Angelou was an American poet, author and civil rights activist. She wrote seven autobiographies and several books of poetry as well as essays. She received several laurels during her lifetime such as three Grammys for her spoken word albums, a Tony Award nomination and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. She has also been awarded the Spingarn medal, the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was nominated for the Pulitzer for her poetry book “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie“.
Born on 4 April 1928 as Marguerite Annie Johnson, Angelou was only three when she was sent to live with her grandparents, due to her parents’ impending divorce.
When she was eight, she was sexually abused by her mother’s partner. She told her family and the culprit was jailed, but only for a day. Upon his release, he was murdered. Angelou then went mute for what went on to be five years. She believed it was her voice that led to his death. She was his murderer. This was the time when she developed her love for reading and began observing the world around her.
Her teacher and family friend Bertha Flowers helped her regain her voice. She introduced Maya to authors such as Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Black female artists.
During World War II, Maya attended the California Labour school and at the age of 16 went on to become the first Black female cable car conductor in San Francisco. This was a job that she had wanted badly.
Some of her famous works include I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, On the Pulse of Morning, and The Heart of a Woman.
Angelou wrote about racism, identity, family and travel, as well as her own life. She was an advocate for change and received several honorary degrees during her lifetime