Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in the United States of America on April 4, 1928, the second child of Bailey Johnson, a doorman and a navy dietitian, and Vivian (Baxter) Johnson, a nurse and card dealer. At the age of 3 years, her parents’ marriage ended, and their father sent them to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson.
A few years later, their Father returned and relocated Maya and her brother to live with their Mother. It was there, while in her Mother’s care that Maya was raped at the age of eight years old. Her Rapist was found guilty, jailed for only a day and released, only to be murdered a few days later. Believing herself to be responsible for the Man’s death, Maya stopped speaking for a period of about five years. She said "I thought… I killed that man, because I told his name. And… my voice would kill anyone ...". It was during this time of muteness that Angelou developed her extraordinary talent to read, listen and observe the world around her. Soon after the murder of the Rapist, Angelou and her brother were sent back to their grandmother where she was encouraged to speak again.
Graduating from High School and at the age of 17, Angelou had a Son out of wedlock. Struggling to support her child without adequate education or skills, Angelou slid into a world of poverty and crime, working at times as Cook, Manager and Prostitute. She eventually turned her life around with a career in dance, acting, singing and writing. Maya Angelou was married a number of times as documented in her Auto-biographies. Angelou wrote seven autobiographies, the last one of which she wrote at the age of 85 years. Angelou's career also includes poetry, plays, screenplays for television and film, directing, acting, and public speaking. She was the first African American woman to direct a major motion picture, Down in the Delta, in 1998.
Although she never received a University degree, Angelou received many accolades and awards, including over 50 honorary degrees, a Pulitzer Prize nomination, a Tony Award nomination and three Grammys for her spoken word albums. She served on two presidential committees and was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the Lincoln Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Guardian’s Gary Younge said of Angelou: “To know her life story is to simultaneously wonder what on earth you have been doing with your own life and feel glad that you didn't have to go through half the things she has.”
Maya Angelou died at the age of eighty-six. She was survived by her Son, grand-children and great-grandchildren.
Last Updated on Thursday, 15 January 2015 23:54
Written by Ovie Farraday