Born in 1928 in Missouri as Marguerite Annie Johnson, Maya Angelou was one of the most influential black women of all time, best known for her seven autobiographies, several poetry books, essays and various TV shows, films, and plays. In addition to being an actress, writer, director, and producer, she was also an important activist in the civil rights movement in the US in the 1960s and the first poet to make an inaugural recitation at the first inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1993 (reciting “On the Pulse of Morning”) since Robert Frost at JFK’s inauguration in 1961.
At the age of three, her parents’ tumultuous marriage ended in divorce, following which she was sent to live with her paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, who was an uncharacteristically successful black woman at the time with a successful general store in Arkansas. The children moved several times and, at the age of eight, she was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend who was later killed.
She remained mute for five years following the incident and her biographers credit this period of time as the essential period during which she developed her extraordinary imagination and love for literature and books.
She credited a family friend, Mrs. Flowers, for helping her regain her voice and introducing her to various authors, such as Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, and Edgar Allen Poe, and to black female artists, such as Frances Harper and Jessie Fauset. In 1951, she married a Greek electrician, Tosh Angelos, and took several modern dance classes during her marriage.
After its dissolution in 1954, she toured Europe with the production of Porgy and Bess. In 1959, she met the novelist John Oliver Killens and moved to New York where she met several African-American authors, such as John Henrik Clarke and became published for the first time. In 1960, she met Martin Luther King, Jr., and joined his civil rights movement as an important fundraiser and organiser of events. In 1961, she moved to Cairo with her son to live with her partner, South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make, and worked as a correspondent for the newspaper The Arab Observer.
She wrote her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in 1968. She also worked as a composer, script writer, and professor at the Wake Forest University in North Carolina (the latter until 2013). She was the first African-American to write three volumes about her life (in the end, she wrote seven in total). Oprah Winfrey credits her as her close friend and mentor. Maya Angelou died in 2014 at the age of 86 but still remains one of the most celebrated black women of all time.
Did you know:
- her name Maya Angelou came about in 1954 as a combination of her brother’s nickname for her (Maya deriving from ‘My’ or ‘My Sister’) and former married name (Angelos);
- that she did all sorts of odd jobs during her life, including fry cook, sex worker, Porgy and Bess cast member, before embarking on a writing career;
- that she was the first black female cable car conductor in San Francisco at the age of 16 for which she received a “Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2014 from the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials;
- that she owed her proficiency in languages to her decision to learn the languages of all countries she visited during the European tour of the Porgy and Bess production she was cast in during the 1950s;
- that her screenplay Georgia, Georgia, was the first produced screenplay by a black woman in 1972 in Sweden, and she also wrote the soundtrack for the film;
- that she directed her first feature film in 1996 (Down in the Delta)?
Most Inspiring Maya Angelou Quotes
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did, but people
will never forget how you made them feel.”
“You may not control all the events that happen to you,
but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly,
but rarely admit the changes it has gone
through to achieve that beauty.”
“I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart,
I usually make the right decision.”
“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love.”
“If you don’t like something, change it
If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
“We need much less than we think we need.”
“If I am not good to myself,
how can I expect anyone else to be good to me?
“Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency.
We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”
“I’ve learned that even when I have pains,
I don’t have to be one.”
“Have enough courage to trust love
one more time and always one more time.”
“If you’re always trying to be normal,
you will never know how amazing you can be.”
“Seek patience and passion in equal amounts.
Patience alone will not build the temple. Passion alone will destroy its walls.”
“Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.”
“A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy;
a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.”
“You can’t use up creativity.
The more you use, the more you have.”
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths
you take but by the moments that take your breath away.”
“If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy
can totally transform one million realities.”
“Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world,
ut has not solved one yet.”
“Success is liking yourself,
liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
“There’s a world of difference between truth and facts.
Facts can obscure the truth.”
I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life
with a catcher’s mitt on both hands;
you need to be able to throw something back.”
“When someone shows you who they are,
believe them the first time.”
“If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else,
you will have succeeded.”
“We are only as blind as we want to be. “
“I got my own back. “
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. “
“I respect myself and insist upon it from everybody.
And because I do it, I then respect everybody, too. “
“Determine to live life with flair and laughter. “
“I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. “
“I work very hard, and I play very hard. I’m grateful for life.
And I live it I believe life loves the liver of it. I live it.”
“Whatever you want to do, if you want to be great at it,
you have to love it and be able to make sacrifices for it. “
“Courage – you develop courage by doing small things
like just as if you wouldn’t want to pick up a 100-pound
weight without preparing yourself. “