Maya Angelou Biography

Maya Angelou was an American Poet, memoirist and civil rights activist. She wrote about 36 books but she is most famous for her 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She is also well-known for her poem, Still I Rise, a critique of anti-black racism which serves as an empowering tribute to all marginalized and oppressed people.

Maya Angelou was born as Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, US on 4 April 1928. She died on 28 May, 2014 at the age of 86.

Before becoming a writer, she had a diverse range of careers. At 16, she worked as the first work as the first African American and first female street car conductor in San Francisco. After the end of her first marriage, she danced professionally in clubs and between 1954- 1955 she toured 22 countries as a Porgy and Bess opera cast member. She also worked as a correspondent in Egypt and Ghana, a civil rights activist in the 1960s.

She wrote her first book in 1969, at the age of 41. The book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, tells of her life up to the age of 17. The book was a hit and brought her international recognition.

The book explores complex subjects such as racism and rape. In the book, she describes an incident where she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was just 7 years old. In retaliation, the man was beaten to death, probably by one of Maya’s uncles. After this incident, she stopped talking and became mute for 6 years because she thought that her voice was so powerful that it could kill people.

During the time she was mute, she developed a love for language. It was her love of poetry that eventually enabled her to start talking again.

Maya Angelou has received over 50 honorary degrees and a host of awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2011), National Medal of Arts (2000), three Grammy Awards, Pulitzer Prize nomination and Tony Award nomination.  Angelou recited her poem On the Pulse of Morning during Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993.

Maya Angelou’s inspiring story is one of hope and re-invention. She did not define herself by her past as rape victim, sex-worker or a struggling teen mom (at age 17) but she rose above her challenges to become an internationally acclaimed poet and writer, among many other things.

Further Reading

Check out the articles below for quotes by Maya Angelou and other accomplished writers.

You may also enjoy biographies about Margaret Atwood, Anne Lamott, Anais Nin, Anne Frank, and J.K Rowling among many more. See more interesting biographies here.

  • Sources Cited for Maya Angelou’s biography

Wikipedia Maya Angelou Wikipedia page

Poetry Foundation Maya Angelou

Time 5 Things to Know About Maya Angelou’s Complicated, Meaningful Life