Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. Maya had a troubled childhood and witnessed and experienced firsthand the racism in America that was prevalent at the time. She was a very accomplished poet, writer and civil rights activist. She won several awards during her lifetime and had a major impact on American culture. After a series of different jobs she became a writer and a poet, and became a spokesperson and strong voice for the African American community. In fact, Maya Angelou played a large role in the civil rights movement where she worked with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Some of her literary works explored the theme of racism, as well as the themes of identity and family.
During her early years as an adult she was a singer and dancer. It was only in 1959 after she met a novelist, John Oliver Killens, that she focused more on her writing. This was in large part due to John Killens who strongly encouraged her to spend more time on her writing. She was therefore motivated to move to New York City where she did focus more on writing.
Many of her literary works were autobiographical and her first book “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was published in 1969 to great success. This book really put her in the spotlight and brought her international attention and fame. She was very prolific as a writer, in fact she wrote several articles, poems, documentaries, TV scripts, autobiographies and short stories. She even did some acting and appeared in a supporting role in the 1977 television series “Roots”, for which she was nominated for an Emmy Award. She also traveled quite extensively and lived in Africa for a while during the 1960s. These vast experiences no doubt influenced her literary work
Over the years, Maya has received several honorary degrees from various universities in the United States. In 1981 Maya Angelou accepted a position as a professor of American studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. She was motivated and inspired by being a teacher and took to the lecture circuit with great enthusiasm.
She showed no signs of slowing down and over the years continued to take on several projects including writing for hallmark cards and even directing a feature film. Her sixth autobiography was published in 2002 and was called “A Song Flung Up to Heaven”.
She won several awards during her lifetime including two NAACP awards. In 1972 she was the first African American woman to have a screenplay produced. This was one achievement of many. Her last autobiography was published in 2013 when she was 85 years old. This book discussed her relationship with her mother and was entitled “Mom & Me & Mom”. Maya Angelou really became a national treasure and an icon for women and African Americans in America. She died in 2014 after being in ill health for a while.