Maya Angelou

Feb. 15, 2005, midnight | By Feza Kikaya | 15 years, 8 months ago

Photo: Maya Angelou, author, historian, songwriter, director, performer and civil rights activist.

Maya Angelou is an accomplished author, poet, historian, songwriter, playwright, dancer, stage and screen producer, director, performer, singer and civil rights activist that is best known for her autobiographical novels. She was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri on April 4, 1928 and since then, has been recognized as a notable literary figure.

Angelou was raised in rural Stamps, Arkansas, by her grandmother after her parents divorced. She recounts her childhood experiences up to age 16 in "I Know Why the Caged Birds Sings," a novel nominated for the National Book Award. In Angelou's book, the reader learns that the confidence her grandmother taught her diminished after her mother's boyfriend raped Angelou when she was eight. This incident silenced her for five years, but she overcame the experience when a teacher introduced her to the world of literature. Even so, Angelou spent much of her adolescence trying to escape from her family problems and took on various jobs such as working as a nightclub singer in New York and San Francisco. She changed her name to Maya Angelou when she became a cabaret dancer in her early twenties.

In 1959, Angelou became the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She later worked as editor for The Arab Observer, the only English-language weekly newspaper published in the Middle East, from 1961 to 1962. She lived in Accra, Ghana, and taught music and drama and worked as the features editor of the African Review. In 1974, she was appointed to the Bicentennial Commission by Gerald Ford and was later appointed to the Commission for International Woman of the Year by Jimmy Carter. She delivered her poem "On the Pulse of the Morning" at President Bill Clinton's Inaugural Address in 1993. In addition, she studied cinematography in Sweden.

Angelou became serious about her writing by the time she reached her thirties. She joined the Harlem Writers' Guild and became an activist for black rights. In her next four autobiographical novels - "Gather Together in My Name" (1974), "Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas" (1976), "The Heart of a Woman" (1981) and "All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes" (1986) - Angelou discussed her journey to self-discovery, which was influenced by encounters with such leaders as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The literary figure wrote numerous volumes of poetry as well including "A Brave and Startling Truth" (1995), "The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou" (1994), "Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now" (1993), "Now Shelba Sings the Song" (1987), "I Shall Not be Moved" (1990), "Shaker, Why Don't You Sing?" (1983), "Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well" (1975) and "Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie" (1971), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

As the first black female director in Hollywood, Angelou has also written, produced, directed and starred in productions for stage, film and television. She won the Golden Eagle Award for her PBS documentary entitled "Afro-Americans in the Arts" and was nominated twice for a Tony award for her acting roles in "Look Away" (1973) and "Roots" (1977).

Her poetry

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise

I rise
I rise.

To read more of her poetry, click here.

Information has been compiled from Gale: Discovering Collection and

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Feza Kikaya. Feza Kikaya is finally a SENIOR in the CAP program at Blair. She enjoys driving, hanging out with friends and laughing. Most importantly, Feza is counting down the days to graduation so she can begin a new chapter of her life in college. Her favorite … More »

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