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Maya Angelou and her works

Updated on August 24, 2012

Maya Angelou – the great author and poet

Maya Angelou the celebrated American poet is famous in various roles as a historian, author, memoirist, playwright, actress, producer and director. Her series of six autobiographies made her very popular in America. Her work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, (1969) has been nominated for a National Book Award. Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die (1971) the poetry volume of Maya Angelou got a nomination for Pulitzer Prize. She had published a bunch of magazine articles and ten best selling books. She could produce a number of prize-winning documentaries, for example the "Afro-Americans in the Arts," which secured the Golden Eagle Award In the 1993 presidential inauguration she wrote and presented a poem "On the Pulse of Morning" upon the special request of President Clinton. She is a good orator and gives lectures in US and abroad. She is Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. She had served as the editor of The Arab Observer and the featured editor of The African Review. She had also been a faculty at the University of Ghana. Upon the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in 1960 she served as the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Later the President Gerald Ford appointed Maya Angelou in the Bicentennial Commission. President Jimmy Carter appointed Maya Angelou to the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year. At present Maya Angelou is part of the board of American Film Institute. She is also one of the few female members of the board of the Directors Guide.

Maya Angelou’s autobiographies

Maya Angelou’s autobiographies are I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969, Gather Together in My Name, 1974, Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas, 1976, The Heart of a Woman, 1981, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, 1986, A Song Flung Up To Heaven, 2002 and The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou, 2004 (Lupton, 1998). Her poems include Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die (1971), Oh Pray My Wings are Gonna Fit Me Well (1975), And Still I Rise (1978), Shaker, Why Don't You Sing (1983), Now Sheba Sings the Song (1987), I Shall Not Be Moved (1990), On the Pulse of Morning (1993), The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (1994), Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems for Women (1995), A Brave and Startling Truth (1995), From a Black Woman to a Black Man (1995), Amazing Peace (2005), Mother, a Cradle to Hold Me (2006), Celebrations, Rituals of Peace and Prayer (2006), Poetry for Young People (2007) (Lupton, 1998).

About Maya Angelou

The real name of Maya Angelou is Marguerite Johnson. Maya Angelou speaks French, Spanish, Italian and West African Fanti. She was born St.Louis, and was brought up in the rural areas Arkansaw. She belonged to Stamps, a rural segregated community that was highly subjected to oppression. It was period in the American history when the nation was struggling to recover from the Great Depression having trouble with the numerous races and ethnicities. Maya Angelou made it clear in her works. She says “"It was awful to be Negro and have no control over my life. It was brutal to be young and already trained to sit quietly and listen to charges brought against my color with no chance of defense. We should be dead. I thought I should like to see us all dead, one on top of each other. A pyramid of flesh with the whit folks on the bottom, . . . and then the Negro's" (Angelou Caged Bird 153).

Works of Maya Angelou

The works of Maya Angelou reflect the period of her brought up and the struggles she underwent in her life. Maya Angelou had a troublesome and unstable life. Her works characterizes her struggles. Autobiographies and poems mirror her life. The life and career of Maya Angelou influenced her thoughts. She faced every challenge of being a part of the negatively privileged black community of the nineteenth century. She did enjoy a happy childhood because of the family constraints and societal problems. All this negatively experiences molded Maya Angelou to be more humane. This strong humanness is very much evident in all her writings. She herself commented about her that "I am human and nothing human can be alien to me." Her autobiographies and her poetries reflect her unstable brought up. The works of Maya Angelou are influenced by her dream of conquering the problems that were ever-present in her life.

Biography of Maya Angelou that influenced her works

The works of Maya Angelou were heavily affected by the period in which she began to write. It was a turbulent period for the African-Americans in America. The fifties and sixties was a turbulent time for most African-Americans in the US. The life of Maya Angelou was never free from chaos. She experienced the bitter episodes of racism, rape, grief and segregation and dehumanization from her very childhood. She underwent severe physical and emotional stress. She underwent all these struggles in a time frame during which the emotional chapter of an individual is formed. The society where she was brought up was a playground of racism. There existed various racial ethnic differences and cultural variations. The society was isolated; ill developed and racially segregated that promoted racial mistrust, useless conflicts and various other discriminations that blocked the society from attaining equality and progress. Racial oppression and systemic inequalities stood as a hurdle to the development of the society and personal improvement of individuals. She endured all these trials and prepared herself strong enough to face the world that is never free from racism, segregation and dehumanization. She chooses to prevail and fight back boldly. She made her attitude known to the world through her literary works, her poems and her autobiographies. She produced writings that prepared others to become strong in similar struggles.

Maya Angelou's experiences, struggles and the lessons granted her the confidence to open a new path of perseverance and hope. She turned to be a successful poet, great orator, a good teacher and a source of inspiration for millions. The themes of her works gave others the thrust to fight and prevail in life’s difficult situations. She was courageous; her experiences made her tough and strong. Her biographies recite the misfortunes, struggles and hardships in her life. Her first autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings speaks on the concept of black skin and the physical and emotional struggle associated with it. The autobiography opens with a symbolic presentation that reveals Angelou’s panic as a little girl being started at (in church) by the prejudiced whites. Whites look down at people of color during those times. She was subjected to segregation and oppression. Her family was also very much unstable as her parents divorced when she was a child. She was sexually abused at an early age. Her life was highly disadvantaged as a black woman. She faced divorces in her marriage was struggled hard to bring her son up. The works of Maya Angelou speaks of several painful experiences in her life. She refused to be a victim to her circumstances. She instead set an example and became a role model for the suffering African-Americans of United States. She turned out to be one of the most influential African Americans in American history. She poured out her pains in her poems and autobiographies. The works of Maya Angelou reflect the period of her brought up and the struggles she underwent in her life.


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