|Birth Day:||April 4, 1928|
|Death Date:||May 28, 2014 (age 86)|
|Birth Place:||St. Louis, United States|
As per our current Database, Maya Angelou died on May 28, 2014 (age 86).
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She was mute for five years as the result of trauma and, during this period, developed her lifelong love of literature.
Marguerite Annie Johnson was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928, the second child of Bailey Johnson, a doorman and navy dietitian, and Vivian (Baxter) Johnson, a nurse and card dealer. Angelou's older brother, Bailey Jr., nicknamed Marguerite "Maya", derived from "My" or "Mya Sister". When Angelou was three and her brother four, their parents' "calamitous marriage" ended, and their father sent them to Stamps, Arkansas, alone by train, to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson. In "an astonishing exception" to the harsh economics of African Americans of the time, Angelou's grandmother prospered financially during the Great Depression and World War II because the general store she owned sold needed basic commodities and because "she made wise and honest investments".
In 1951, Angelou married Tosh Angelos, a Greek electrician, former sailor, and aspiring musician, despite the condemnation of interracial relationships at the time and the disapproval of her mother. She took modern dance classes during this time, and met dancers and choreographers Alvin Ailey and Ruth Beckford. Ailey and Angelou formed a dance team, calling themselves "Al and Rita", and performed modern dance at fraternal black organizations throughout San Francisco but never became successful. Angelou, her new husband, and her son moved to New York City so she could study African dance with Trinidadian dancer Pearl Primus, but they returned to San Francisco a year later.
The details of Angelou's life described in her seven autobiographies and in numerous interviews, speeches, and articles tended to be inconsistent. Critic Mary Jane Lupton has explained that when Angelou spoke about her life, she did so eloquently but informally and "with no time chart in front of her". For example, she was married at least twice, but never clarified the number of times she had been married, "for fear of sounding frivolous"; according to her autobiographies and to Gillespie, she married Tosh Angelos in 1951 and Paul du Feu in 1974, and began her relationship with Vusumzi Make in 1961, but never formally married him. Angelou held many jobs, including some in the sex trade, working as a prostitute and madam for lesbians, as she described in her second autobiography, Gather Together in My Name. In a 1995 interview, Angelou said,
After Angelou's marriage ended in 1954, she danced professionally in clubs around San Francisco, including the nightclub The Purple Onion, where she sang and danced to calypso music. Up to that point, she went by the name of "Marguerite Johnson", or "Rita", but at the strong suggestion of her managers and supporters at The Purple Onion, she changed her professional name to "Maya Angelou" (her nickname and former married surname). It was a "distinctive name" that set her apart and captured the feel of her calypso dance performances. During 1954 and 1955, Angelou toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. She began her practice of learning the language of every country she visited, and in a few years she gained proficiency in several languages. In 1957, riding on the popularity of calypso, Angelou recorded her first album, Miss Calypso, which was reissued as a CD in 1996. She appeared in an off-Broadway review that inspired the 1957 film Calypso Heat Wave, in which Angelou sang and performed her own compositions.
Angelou met novelist John Oliver Killens in 1959 and, at his urging, moved to New York to concentrate on her writing career. She joined the Harlem Writers Guild, where she met several major African-American authors, including John Henrik Clarke, Rosa Guy, Paule Marshall, and Julian Mayfield, and was published for the first time. In 1960, after meeting civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and hearing him speak, she and Killens organized "the legendary" Cabaret for Freedom to benefit the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and she was named SCLC's Northern Coordinator. According to scholar Lyman B. Hagen, her contributions to civil rights as a fundraiser and SCLC organizer were successful and "eminently effective". Angelou also began her pro-Castro and anti-apartheid activism during this time.
In 1961, Angelou performed in Jean Genet's play The Blacks, along with Abbey Lincoln, Roscoe Lee Brown, James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett, Godfrey Cambridge, and Cicely Tyson. Also in 1961, she met South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make; they never officially married. She and her son Guy moved with Make to Cairo, where Angelou worked as an associate editor at the weekly English-language newspaper The Arab Observer. In 1962, her relationship with Make ended, and she and Guy moved to Accra, Ghana so he could attend college, but he was seriously injured in an automobile accident. Angelou remained in Accra for his recovery and ended up staying there until 1965. She became an administrator at the University of Ghana, and was active in the African-American expatriate community. She was a feature editor for The African Review, a freelance writer for the Ghanaian Times, wrote and broadcast for Radio Ghana, and worked and performed for Ghana's National Theatre. She performed in a revival of The Blacks in Geneva and Berlin.
In Accra, she became close friends with Malcolm X during his visit in the early 1960s. Angelou returned to the US in 1965 to help him build a new civil rights organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity; he was assassinated shortly afterward. Devastated and adrift, she joined her brother in Hawaii, where she resumed her singing career. She moved back to Los Angeles to focus on her writing career. Working as a market researcher in Watts, Angelou witnessed the riots in the summer of 1965. She acted in and wrote plays, and returned to New York in 1967. She met her lifelong friend Rosa Guy and renewed her friendship with James Baldwin, whom she had met in Paris in the 1950s and called "my brother", during this time. Her friend Jerry Purcell provided Angelou with a stipend to support her writing.
In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. asked Angelou to organize a march. She agreed, but "postpones again", and in what Gillespie calls "a macabre twist of fate", he was assassinated on her 40th birthday (April 4). Devastated again, she was encouraged out of her depression by her friend James Baldwin. As Gillespie states, "If 1968 was a year of great pain, loss, and sadness, it was also the year when America first witnessed the breadth and depth of Maya Angelou's spirit and creative genius". Despite having almost no experience, she wrote, produced, and narrated Blacks, Blues, Black!, a ten-part series of documentaries about the connection between blues music and black Americans' African heritage, and what Angelou called the "Africanisms still current in the U.S." for National Educational Television, the precursor of PBS. Also in 1968, inspired at a dinner party she attended with Baldwin, cartoonist Jules Feiffer, and his wife Judy, and challenged by Random House editor Robert Loomis, she wrote her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969. This brought her international recognition and acclaim.
When I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1969, Angelou was hailed as a new kind of memoirist, one of the first African-American women who were able to publicly discuss their personal lives. According to scholar Hilton Als, up to that point, black female writers were marginalized to the point that they were unable to present themselves as central characters in the literature they wrote. Linguist John McWhorter agreed, seeing Angelou's works, which he called "tracts", as "apologetic writing". He placed Angelou in the tradition of African-American literature as a defense of black culture, which he called "a literary manifestation of the imperative that reigned in the black scholarship of the period". Writer Julian Mayfield, who called Caged Bird "a work of art that eludes description", argued that Angelou's autobiographies set a precedent for not only other black women writers, but also African-American autobiography as a whole. Als said that Caged Bird marked one of the first times that a black autobiographer could, as he put it, "write about blackness from the inside, without apology or defense". Through the writing of her autobiography, Angelou became recognized and highly respected as a spokesperson for blacks and women. It made her "without a doubt, ... America's most visible black woman autobiographer", and "a major autobiographical voice of the time". As writer Gary Younge said, "Probably more than almost any other writer alive, Angelou's life literally is her work."
Released in 1972, Angelou's Georgia, Georgia, produced by a Swedish film company and filmed in Sweden, was the first produced screenplay by a black woman. She also wrote the film's soundtrack, despite having very little additional input in the filming of the movie. Angelou married Paul du Feu, a Welsh carpenter and ex-husband of writer Germaine Greer, in San Francisco in 1973. Over the next ten years, as Gillespie has stated, "She [Angelou] had accomplished more than many artists hope to achieve in a lifetime." Angelou worked as a composer, writing for singer Roberta Flack, and composing movie scores. She wrote articles, short stories, TV scripts, documentaries, autobiographies, and poetry. She produced plays and was named visiting professor at several colleges and universities. She was "a reluctant actor", and was nominated for a Tony Award in 1973 for her role in Look Away. As a theater director, in 1988 she undertook a revival of Errol John's play Moon on a Rainbow Shawl at the Almeida Theatre in London.
Angelou was honored by universities, literary organizations, government agencies, and special interest groups. Her honors included a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her book of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie, a Tony Award nomination for her role in the 1973 play Look Away, and three Grammys for her spoken word albums. She served on two presidential committees, and was awarded the Spingarn Medal in 1994, the National Medal of Arts in 2000, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. Angelou was awarded more than fifty honorary degrees.
In 1977, Angelou appeared in a supporting role in the television mini-series Roots. She was given a multitude of awards during this period, including more than thirty honorary degrees from colleges and universities from all over the world. In the late 1970s, Angelou met Oprah Winfrey when Winfrey was a TV anchor in Baltimore, Maryland; Angelou would later become Winfrey's close friend and mentor. In 1981, Angelou and du Feu divorced.
Angelou's successful acting career included roles in numerous plays, films, and television programs, including her appearance in the television mini-series Roots in 1977. Her screenplay, Georgia, Georgia (1972), was the first original script by a black woman to be produced, and she was the first African-American woman to direct a major motion picture, Down in the Delta, in 1998.
She returned to the southern United States in 1981 because she felt she had to come to terms with her past there and, despite having no bachelor's degree, accepted the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she was one of a few full-time African-American professors. From that point on, she considered herself "a teacher who writes". Angelou taught a variety of subjects that reflected her interests, including philosophy, ethics, theology, science, theater, and writing. The Winston-Salem Journal reported that even though she made many friends on campus, "she never quite lived down all of the criticism from people who thought she was more of a celebrity than an intellect...[and] an overpaid figurehead". The last course she taught at Wake Forest was in 2011, but she was planning to teach another course in late 2014. Her final speaking engagement at the university was in late 2013. Beginning in the 1990s, Angelou actively participated in the lecture circuit in a customized tour bus, something she continued into her eighties.
Beginning with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou used the same "writing ritual" for many years. She would wake early in the morning and check into a hotel room, where the staff was instructed to remove any pictures from the walls. She would write on legal pads while lying on the bed, with only a bottle of sherry, a deck of cards to play solitaire, Roget's Thesaurus, and the Bible, and would leave by the early afternoon. She would average 10–12 pages of written material a day, which she edited down to three or four pages in the evening. She went through this process to "enchant" herself, and as she said in a 1989 interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, "relive the agony, the anguish, the Sturm und Drang". She placed herself back in the time she wrote about, even traumatic experiences such as her rape in Caged Bird, in order to "tell the human truth" about her life. Angelou stated that she played cards in order to get to that place of enchantment and in order to access her memories more effectively. She said, "It may take an hour to get into it, but once I'm in it—ha! It's so delicious!" She did not find the process cathartic; rather, she found relief in "telling the truth".
Angelou had one son, Guy, whose birth she described in her first autobiography; one grandson, two great-grandchildren, and, according to Gillespie, a large group of friends and extended family. Angelou's mother Vivian Baxter died in 1991 and her brother Bailey Johnson Jr., died in 2000 after a series of strokes; both were important figures in her life and her books. In 1981, the mother of her grandson disappeared with him; finding him took four years.
In 1993, Angelou recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at the presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton, becoming the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961. Her recitation resulted in more fame and recognition for her previous works, and broadened her appeal "across racial, economic, and educational boundaries". The recording of the poem won a Grammy Award. In June 1995, she delivered what Richard Long called her "second 'public' poem", entitled "A Brave and Startling Truth", which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.
Angelou's long and extensive career also included poetry, plays, screenplays for television and film, directing, acting, and public speaking. She was a prolific writer of poetry; her volume Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie (1971) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and she was chosen by US President Bill Clinton to recite her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" during his inauguration in 1993.
Reviewer Elsie B. Washington, most likely due to President Clinton's choice of Angelou to recite her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at his 1993 inauguration, called her "the black woman's poet laureate". Sales of the paperback version of her books and poetry rose by 300–600% the week after Angelou's recitation Random House, which published the poem later that year, had to reprint 400,000 copies of all her books to keep up with the demand. They sold more of her books in January 1993 than they did in all of 1992, accounting for a 1200% increase. Angelou famously said, in response to criticism regarding using the details of her life in her work, "I agree with Balzac and 19th-century writers, black and white, who say, 'I write for money'." Younge, speaking after the publication of Angelou's third book of essays, Letter to My Daughter (2008), has said, "For the last couple of decades she has merged her various talents into a kind of performance art—issuing a message of personal and social uplift by blending poetry, song and conversation."
Angelou achieved her goal of directing a feature film in 1996, Down in the Delta, which featured actors such as Alfre Woodard and Wesley Snipes. Also in 1996, she collaborated with R&B artists Ashford & Simpson on seven of the eleven tracks of their album Been Found. The album was responsible for three of Angelou's only Billboard chart appearances. In 2000, she created a successful collection of products for Hallmark, including greeting cards and decorative household items. She responded to critics who charged her with being too commercial by stating that "the enterprise was perfectly in keeping with her role as 'the people's poet'". More than thirty years after Angelou began writing her life story, she completed her sixth autobiography A Song Flung Up to Heaven, in 2002.
Educator Daniel Challener, in his 1997 book Stories of Resilience in Childhood, analyzed the events in Caged Bird to illustrate resiliency in children. He argued that Angelou's book has provided a "useful framework" for exploring the obstacles many children like Maya have faced and how their communities have helped them succeed. Psychologist Chris Boyatzis has reported using Caged Bird to supplement scientific theory and research in the instruction of child development topics such as the development of self-concept and self-esteem, ego resilience, industry versus inferiority, effects of abuse, parenting styles, sibling and friendship relations, gender issues, cognitive development, puberty, and identity formation in adolescence. He found Caged Bird a "highly effective" tool for providing real-life examples of these psychological concepts.
According to Gillespie, she hosted several celebrations per year at her main residence in Winston-Salem; "her skill in the kitchen is the stuff of legend—from haute cuisine to down-home comfort food". The Winston-Salem Journal stated: "Securing an invitation to one of Angelou's Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas tree decorating parties or birthday parties was among the most coveted invitations in town." The New York Times, describing Angelou's residence history in New York City, stated that she regularly hosted elaborate New Year's Day parties. She combined her cooking and writing skills in her 2004 book Hallelujah! The Welcome Table, which featured 73 recipes, many of which she learned from her grandmother and mother, accompanied by 28 vignettes. She followed up in 2010 with her second cookbook, Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart, which focused on weight loss and portion control.
Angelou campaigned for the Democratic Party in the 2008 presidential primaries, giving her public support to Hillary Clinton. In the run-up to the January Democratic primary in South Carolina, the Clinton campaign ran ads featuring Angelou's endorsement. The ads were part of the campaign's efforts to rally support in the Black community; but Barack Obama won the South Carolina primary, finishing 29 points ahead of Clinton and taking 80% of the Black vote. When Clinton's campaign ended, Angelou put her support behind Obama, who went on to win the presidential election and became the first African-American president of the United States. After Obama's inauguration, she stated, "We are growing up beyond the idiocies of racism and sexism."
Evidence suggests that Angelou was partially descended from the Mende people of West Africa. In 2008, a DNA test revealed that among all of her African ancestors, 45 percent were from the Congo-Angola region and 55 percent were from West Africa. A 2008 PBS documentary found that Angelou's maternal great-grandmother Mary Lee, who had been emancipated after the Civil War, became pregnant by her white former owner, John Savin. Savin forced Lee to sign a false statement accusing another man of being the father of her child. After Savin was indicted for forcing Lee to commit perjury, and despite the discovery that Savin was the father, a jury found him not guilty. Lee was sent to the Clinton County poorhouse in Missouri with her daughter, Marguerite Baxter, who became Angelou's grandmother. Angelou described Lee as "that poor little Black girl, physically and mentally bruised".
In 2009, the gossip website TMZ erroneously reported that Angelou had been hospitalized in Los Angeles when she was alive and well in St. Louis, which resulted in rumors of her death and, according to Angelou, concern among her friends and family worldwide. In 2013, Angelou told her friend Oprah Winfrey that she had studied courses offered by the Unity Church, which were spiritually significant to her. She did not earn a university degree, but according to Gillespie it was Angelou's preference to be called "Dr. Angelou" by people outside of her family and close friends. She owned two homes in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and a "lordly brownstone" in Harlem, which was purchased in 2004 and was full of her "growing library" of books she collected throughout her life, artwork collected over the span of many decades, and well-stocked kitchens. Guardian writer Gary Younge reported that in Angelou's Harlem home were several African wall hangings and her collection of paintings, including ones of several jazz trumpeters, a watercolor of Rosa Parks, and a Faith Ringgold work entitled "Maya's Quilt Of Life".
In late 2010, Angelou donated her personal papers and career memorabilia to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. They consisted of more than 340 boxes of documents that featured her handwritten notes on yellow legal pads for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a 1982 telegram from Coretta Scott King, fan mail, and personal and professional correspondence from colleagues such as her editor Robert Loomis. In 2011, Angelou served as a consultant for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. She spoke out in opposition to a paraphrase of a quotation by King that appeared on the memorial, saying, "The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit", and demanded that it be changed. Eventually, the paraphrase was removed.
In 2013, at the age of 85, Angelou published the seventh volume of autobiography in her series, entitled Mom & Me & Mom, which focuses on her relationship with her mother.
Angelou wrote a total of seven autobiographies. According to scholar Mary Jane Lupton, Angelou's third autobiography Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas marked the first time a well-known African-American autobiographer had written a third volume about her life. Her books "stretch over time and place", from Arkansas to Africa and back to the US, and take place from the beginnings of World War II to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. In her fifth autobiography “All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes” (1986) Angelou tells about her return to Ghana searching for the past of her tribe. She published her seventh autobiography Mom & Me & Mom in 2013, at the age of 85. Critics have tended to judge Angelou's subsequent autobiographies "in light of the first", with Caged Bird receiving the highest praise. Angelou wrote five collections of essays, which writer Hilton Als called her "wisdom books" and "homilies strung together with autobiographical texts". Angelou used the same editor throughout her writing career, Robert Loomis, an executive editor at Random House; he retired in 2011 and has been called "one of publishing's hall of fame editors." Angelou said regarding Loomis: "We have a relationship that's kind of famous among publishers."
When Angelou was fourteen and her brother fifteen, she and her brother moved in with their mother once again, who had since moved to Oakland, California. During World War II, Angelou attended the California Labor School. At the age of 16, she became the first black female cable car conductor in San Francisco. She wanted the job badly, admiring the uniforms of the operators — so much so that her mother referred to it as her "dream job." Her mother encouraged her to pursue the position, but warned her that she would need to arrive early and work harder than others. In 2014, Angelou received a lifetime achievement award from the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials as part of a session billed “Women Who Move the Nation.”
On May 29, 2014, Mount Zion Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, of which Angelou was a member for 30 years, held a public memorial service to honor her. On June 7, a private memorial service was held at Wait Chapel on the campus of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. The memorial was shown live on local stations in the Winston-Salem/Triad area and streamed live on the university web site with speeches from her son, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Bill Clinton. On June 15, a memorial was held at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, where Angelou was a member for many years. Rev. Cecil Williams, Mayor Ed Lee, and former mayor Willie Brown spoke.
Currently, Maya Angelou is 93 years, 9 months and 23 days old. Maya Angelou will celebrate 94th birthday on a Monday 4th of April 2022.
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