Maya Angelou: A Light of Strength Amidst the Dark


Disclaimer: This article mentions abuse and assault.

Inspiring. Poetic. Trailblazing. These are all words that describe Maya Angelou, arguably one of the most notable artistic figures of the 20th century. Her works as an author, poet, singer, dancer, screenwriter, actress, and activist have been extremely successful and have inspired millions. Being a woman of color and someone subjected to childhood trauma and racism shows we are not alone in our struggles, and that we can work through them and rise. 

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. When she was young, her parents divorced, so she and her brother moved in with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. There, her brother gave her the nickname Maya. When she was seven years old, Maya briefly returned to her mother’s care but was sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend. He was eventually jailed but was killed after release by Maya’s uncle.  Believing her confession of his sexual crime contributed to his death, Angelou became mute for six years. During that time, she returned to live with her grandmother once again. Later on, a little bit before World War ll, she moved back in with her mother in Oakland, California. She attended George Washington High School, the California Labor School, and graduated from Mission High School. During that period, she worked as a cable car conductor in San Francisco, becoming the first African American woman to do so.

After she graduated, Maya worked a series of odd jobs to support herself and her son Clyde Bailey Guy Johnson. In 1949, she married Tosh Angelos. Despite getting divorced in 1952, she adopted a form of his surname, Angelou. Throughout the 1950s, Angelou tapped into her passion for singing and dancing, performing professionally in the US, Europe, and northern Africa. She also sold many albums and became a strong activist. In 1952, she started her work with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was even made the Northern Coordinator of the South Christian Leadership Conference.

Maya Angelou later moved to New York and joined the Harlem Writers Guild, which was created by Black authors to support African American publications. In 1969, she published her first book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” an autobiography of her childhood. It was nominated for the National Book Award for its resonation with readers of strength amid childhood trauma and racism. Angelou published six more autobiographies, poetry, and several essay collections. She has received Grammys and other awards for all three types of her work. In addition to her writing, Angelou was also an actor, director, and producer. She became the first African American woman to have her screenplay turned into a film in 1972. She also earned 2 Tony nominations for her roles in the play “Look Away” and the tv series “Roots.”

Over her lifetime, she has won many awards and nominations, such as Grammys, Tonys, literature awards, etc. One notable accolade is when she won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, awarded to her by former President Barack Obama.

Despite her death on May 28, 2014, Maya Angelou left behind an important legacy as an American author, poet, and activist. She used her voice and her story to empower other African Americans and women of color. Her life includes a lot of accomplishments, making her an incredible role model and inspiration to people of all ages. She showed the world that you can do anything, regardless of race, gender, or status. Her life story will serve as an inspiration for generations to come.