20 Surprising Facts about Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou was a prominent African-American poet, singer and scholar. She was most known for her brilliant autobiographies and artistic works in theatre, film making, music, and a host of other disciplines.
Here are 20 facts that you probably did not know about Maya Angelou (1928–2014):
- Her father, Bailey Johnson, was a doorman and a dietitian. Her mother on the other hand was a nurse. Owing to her parent’s divorce, Maya and her brother, Bailey Jr., moved from one place to another.
- Her name “Maya” was given to her by her older brother, Bailey Jr. Her actual name was Marguerite Annie Johnson.
- Around the age of 7, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. The man would later get murdered. This came after he spent a couple of days in jail. The man’s death shocked the 8 year-old Maya Angelou. Believing that she was somehow responsible for the man’s death, Angelou spent the next six years of her life in complete silence. The silver lining from all that was that it was during that time Maya Angelou took a liking for books.
- Maya Angelou was the first black female to work as a cable car conductor in San Francisco.
- Shortly after getting married to Tosh Angelos in 1951, Maya Angelou took a number of dance classes. It was during this time she got introduced to dancers Alvin Ailey and Ruth Beckford. From their interactions, the dance group “Al and Rita” was borne.
- As the Northern coordinator of SCLC, Angelou played a vital role in in raising funds for the organization’s civil rights activities.
- She had the honor of working with two very distinguished civil rights activists – Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
- During the early years of Africa’s decolonization, Maya Angelou lived and worked as an editor in two African countries – Egypt (in 1961) and Ghana (from 1962 to 1965). In Ghana for example, she also worked as an administrator in the University of Ghana.
- In addition to the American civil rights activism, Maya Angelou fought very hard to raise awareness of the ills committed by the apartheid government in South Africa.
- Maya Angelou and renowned author James Baldwin had a number of productive meetings. The two first met in Paris, France in the 1950s.
- She was a close friend of Oprah Winfrey, the renowned TV anchor and billionaire.
- Between 1981 and 2011, she served as the lifetime Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.
- According to DNA test, Maya Angelou’s roots can partly be traced to the Mende people of West Africa.
- Her second autobiography, entitled Gather Together in My Name, reveals some of the awful jobs she had to take while in her twenties. At some point, she worked as a prostitute and pimp for lesbians.
- Although she did not acquire any university education, she went on to become a full-time professor and visiting professor in a host of universities across the world.
- She was a jack of all trades; she even wrote a couple of cookbooks that featured close to 100 recipes.
- Many modern writers and Hip-Hop artists – notably Kanye West and Tupac Shakur – have cited Maya Angelou’s works as some of their biggest inspirations.
- When she wrote her first autobiography, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), she was just 17 years.
- In addition to the numerous awards and accolades won all over the world, Maya Angelou had the distinguished honor of receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. Presentation was done by then-U.S. President Barack Obama.
- Maya Angelo died on May 28, 2014. She was aged 86. Angelou was survived by her only son (Guy Johnson), one grandson and two great-grandchildren.
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