Dr. Maya Angelou: An example of life lived to its fullest.
by Lori Hutchinson
When I was growing up, I never took the opportunity to read any of Dr. Angelou’s work. I knew she was a renowned poet and writer, but I was not aware of the greatness of her personal story or her many talents. When I decided to finally read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I was blown away. Dr. Maya Angelou is more than a poet and writer; she's an all-around role model for wisdom and life achievement.
Dr. Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. When she was three years old, Angelou’s parents divorced. She and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, where racism and hatred for blacks was rampant. Angelou experienced the effects firsthand, something that shaped her strong determination for peace and good works.
When she was eight, Angelou moved back to St. Louis with her mother. It was here she experienced something that nearly stole her soul; sexual molestation and rape by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. After the family went to court over the incident, her mother’s boyfriend was murdered by several angry family acquaintances. In the aftermath of these events, Angelou stopped speaking to everyone but her older brother, Bailey.
Angelou and her brother were eventually sent back to Arkansas to live with their grandmother. To help break her out of silence, a friend of Angelou’s grandmother, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, encouraged her to read works of literature out loud. It worked.
After experiencing several firsthand events of racism, Angelou’s grandmother began to fear for the children’s safety in Arkansas. She saved up enough money to send thirteen-year-old Maya to California, where Angelou’s mother had gone to live. Angelou's teenage years, living with her mother, was when she finally began to gain confidence and courage.
Immediately upon arriving, she was awarded a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School. Although she loved the arts, she dropped out within a year to become, at fourteen years old, San Francisco's first African-American female cable car conductor. At sixteen, she became pregnant—although she managed to graduate from high school just weeks before giving birth to her son.
To support him, Angelou worked as a waitress and cook, but her passion for the performing arts soon became her means of support. Throughout the 1950s, she studied dance and performed in several plays, including a European tour of Porgy and Bess. She recorded her first album, Calypso Lady, in 1957. In 1958, she moved to New York City where she joined the Harlem Writer’s Guild.
Always looking for opportunities to make a difference, Angelou moved to Cairo, Egypt, in 1960. There she worked as the English-language editor of The Arab Observer. She next moved to Ghana where she taught at The University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama and worked as editor of The African Review. While in Africa, Angelou studied and mastered several languages, including French, Spanish, Italian and Arabic. This is also where she met Malcolm X.
In 1964, she moved back to the United States and began helping Malcolm X with his Organization of African American Unity. After Malcolm X’s assassination, Angelou was appointed as the Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, headed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On her birthday in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. A poignant moment in Angelou’s life.
In 1970, Angelou’s famous bestselling book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published. This was the beginning of a momentous and historic career. Today, Angelou has published more than 30 bestselling titles. In addition to writing books, she's also written scripts and scores for television and film. Her script for the 1972 film Georgia, Georgia was the first script by an African American woman to be filmed, and it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Angelou has also acted, directed, served on two presidential committees and received dozens of awards and honorary degrees. Today, Dr. Angelou is a professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
It’s awe inspiring to read about this gifted teacher, role model, survivor, artist. Maya Angelou is a woman who’s truly taken life by the horns. If you’re a parent, mentor, or teacher, I encourage you to introduce the youth in your life to Dr. Angelou. She’s a real-life example of making good with the time we’re given on earth.
Lori Hutchison teaches high school English and owns the site
Masters in Teaching. In her spare time, she enjoys writing guest blog posts about various topics of interest; especially teaching! www.mastersinteaching.net