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Maya Angelou, A Classic American Writer

Updated on August 16, 2016
donnah75 profile image

I am a high school English teacher who is passionate about writing, theater, directing and enjoying a positive life with family and friends.

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou | Source

Born on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Arkansas and raised in Stamps, Arkansas, Maya Angelou lived a very interesting, full life. Her life was marked by some extraordinary experiences. For example, she spent part of her childhood being raised by her grandmother, Mamma Henderson. At age eight, she was raped by her mother’s live in boyfriend. At seventeen she had a son, Guy. Also, Angelou was the first black conductor on the streetcars in San Francisco. She made her living as a young woman as a dancer, an actress, and a singer. She performed in an international tour of Porgy and Bess and a European tour of The Blacks. She was nominated for an Emmy for her performance in Roots. She directed pieces for PBS. Her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was made into a television movie. She was also the director of Down in the Delta, a movie About an African-American family trying to stay together and survive by staying connected to their ancestors. She was a Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. Angelou’s extraordinary career shifted over the years from performing to writing.

In the 1960’s, Angelou lived in Africa. She moved there after marrying Vusumsi Make, a South African freedom fighter. They lived in Egypt during their short marriage. While there, Angelou was the editor of The Arab Observer. After divorcing Make, Angelou and her son moved to Ghana. There she worked on The African Review and taught at the University of Ghana.

Angelou in Porgy and Bess
Angelou in Porgy and Bess | Source
Angelou with her book "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings"
Angelou with her book "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" | Source

"I am first a writer..."

It is difficult to describe Angelou’s full life. She attempted to describe her own life in a series of autobiographies beginning with her most famous book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In “Order Out of Chaos” Mary Lupton described Angelou as a “dancer, mother, administrator, director, daughter, actress…rape victim, wife, singer, granddaughter, composer, streetcar conductor, silenced Black child living in the American South, and an African-American living in Ghana” (809). In an interview for the Detroit News, Angelou said of herself, “I am first a writer, and second I’m a teacher…I have my work to do” (Schleier 1).

Maya Angelou was best known for her writing of serial autobiography and poetry. Some of her works include: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Gather Together in My Name, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas, The Heart of a Woman, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now, several volumes of poetry, and Even the Stars Look Lonesome. Even the Stars Look Lonesome is just one example of Angelou’s writing where she shared her observations, views, experience, wisdom, and spirit in a collection of twenty essays.

Over the years, I have read the work of Maya Angelou. I have taught her works in my classroom. I have enjoyed watching her in interviews, as she brought a great spirit to everything she did. One of my great disappointments in life was when she had to cancel her speech at my sister’s college graduation due to an illness. It would have been an amazing moment to hear her speak, as she commanded an audience like no other. She was a phenomenal woman. She was an inspiration and wonderful example of how to live life. After living such an extraordinary life, she died on May 24, 2014. She left behind her spirit and her wisdom with her work. In my mind, Maya Angelou made her mark on literary history, and she will always be at the top of my list of greatest American writers.

What is your favorite Maya Angelou book?

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A look at Angelou's life...

Works Cited

Lupton, Mary Jane. “ Order Out of Chaos: The Autobiographical Works of Maya Angelou.” Black American Literature Forum. 24.4 (1990), 809-814.

Schleier, Curt. “The Interview: Poet Maya Angelou still has a mission: To teach out youth.” Detroit News. [Detroit, Mich.] 3 Sept. 1997, final edition: F1.


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    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 3 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, HSchneider!

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 3 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Excellent Hub about this truly inspirational woman. She will be sorely missed but we are a richer world because of her accomplishments. Great work, Donnah75.

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 3 years ago from Upstate New York

      RIP Maya Angelou. Thank you for all your wisdom.

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Levertis Steele: I am so glad. Thanks for reading.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 5 years ago from Southern Clime

      I enjoyed this hub! Thanks for sharing.

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Jamie. Maya Angelou is an inspiration for me as a woman and as a writer. I appreciate the read and comment.

    • Jamie Brock profile image

      Jamie Brock 5 years ago from Texas

      What a great hub about Maya Angelou.... I saw a special about her on the Oprah channel a while back and she was interviewed on the show as well and it was eye opening and inspiring. I admire her attitude and was struck by her wisdom..There is no doubt she has a way of touching people. Thank you for sharing this :)

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Victoria Lynn: Thanks for reading. It would indeed be amazing to see her in person.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      An amazing woman and poet. Well done! I would love to hear her speak in person, too!

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Timetraveler2: You are right about her aura. She truly is an American treasure. Thank you for reading!

    • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

      Sondra Rochelle 5 years ago from USA

      This is a nice review. I have always loved Maya Angelou, and I love her more now that she has grown old. There is an aura about her that gives me a feeling of peace. Her talent is undeniable. She is a human being who simply shines. It was wonderful to learn more about her through your hub. Thank you.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 5 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Many thanks for this insight into an amazing woman, I love her work she is a great role model.

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, MsLofton. She is one of my favorites too.

    • MsLofton profile image

      MsLofton 5 years ago from IL

      I Love Maya Angelou! She is one of my favorite poets! Great Article.