“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
At her memorial service Bill Clinton said:
“Her great gift in her action-packed life was she was always paying attention. And from the time she started writing her books and her poetry, what she was basically doing was calling our attention to the things she’d been paying attention to. And she did it with a clarity and power that will wash over people as long as there is a written and spoken language.”
Angelou’s accolades include:
- 30 books in her lifetime
- 7 autobiographies
- Grammy winner for 3 spoken-word albums
- A Pulitzer Prize winner
- 30 honorary doctoral degrees
- First lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest in North Carolina
“My mission in life is not merely to survive but to thrive and to do so with some passion some compassion some humor and some style.”
Editor Yvonne Jane Lorraine says:
“We lost a great African-American on May 28th 2014. During her lifetime Angelou showed tremendous courage and compassion when it mattered most. Her contribution to history and society as a teacher, Civil Right’s activist and artist meant she left behind a towering legacy for everyone to enjoy. She was a woman who’s indomitable spirit affected the black race as a whole. She lived a jam-packed life with the glass half full; I know I’m not the only person grieved by her tragic loss.”
Maya your pen no longer writes but your words and legacy live on
1. She wasn’t defined by her difficult childhood
Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents divorced when she was only 3 and she was sent with her brother Bailey to live with their grandmother in the small town of Stamps, Arkansas. In Stamps, the young girl experienced the racial discrimination that was symptomatic of life in the American South. She also absorbed the deep religious faith of her environment. She credited her grandmother and her extended family with instilling in her the values that informed her later life and career.
“Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.”
2. She overcame sexual abuse
At age 7, while visiting her mother in Chicago she was sexually molested by her mother’s boyfriend. Too ashamed to tell any of the adults in her life, she confided in her brother. When she later heard the news that an uncle had killed her attacker, she felt that her words had killed the man. She fell silent and did not speak for 5 years.
Maya began to speak again at 13, when she and her brother rejoined their mother in San Francisco. Maya attended Mission High School and won a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School, where she was exposed to the progressive ideals that animated her later political activism.
“When someone shows you who they are believe them the first time.”
3. She was human and made mistakes
She dropped out of school in her teens to become San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor. She later returned to high school, but became pregnant in her senior year and graduated a few weeks before giving birth to her son, Guy. She left home at 16 and took on the difficult life of a single mother, supporting herself and her son by working as a waitress and cook, but she had not given up on her talents for music, dance, performance and poetry.
4. She found love as a single mother
In 1952, she married a Greek sailor named Anastasios Angelopulos. When she began her career as a nightclub singer, she took the professional name Maya Angelou, combining her childhood nickname with a form of her husband’s name.
“If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
5. She sought out her gifts in spite of life’s challenges
Although the marriage did not last, her performing career flourished. She toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess in 1954 and 1955. She studied modern dance and performed with Alvin Ailey on television, and recorded her first record album, Calypso Lady in 1957.
She had composed song lyrics and poems for many years, and by the end of the 1950s was increasingly interested in developing her skills as a writer. She moved to New York, where she joined the Harlem Writers Guild and took her place among the growing number of young black writers and artists associated with the Civil Rights Movement. She acted in the historic Broadway production of Jean Genet’s The Blacks and wrote and performed a Cabaret for Freedom.
“You may not be able to control all the events that happen to you but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
6. She had an adventurous spirit and returned to Africa
In New York, she fell in love with the South African Civil Rights activist Vusumzi Make and in 1960 the couple moved with Angelou’s son to Cairo, Egypt. In Cairo, Angelou served as editor of the English language weekly The Arab Observer. Angelou and Guy later moved to Ghana, where she joined a thriving group of African-American expatriates. She served as an instructor and assistant administrator at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama, worked as feature editor for The African Review and wrote for The Ghanaian Times and The Ghanaian Broadcasting Company.
“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.”
7. She was always learning and improving
During her years abroad, she read and studied voraciously, mastering French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti. She met with the American leader Malcolm X during his visits to Ghana.
“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”
Maya Angelou returned to America in 1964, with the intention of helping Malcolm X build his new organization of African-American Unity. Shortly after her arrival in the United States, Malcolm X was assassinated, and his plans for a new organization died with him. Angelou involved herself in television production and remained active in the Civil Rights Movement, working more closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His assassination, falling on her birthday in 1968, left her devastated.
8. She let her pain become her gain
With the guidance from friends, she found solace in writing and began work on the novel that would become I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The book tells the story of her life from her formative years in Arkansas to the birth of her child. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1970 to widespread critical acclaim and enormous success.
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically but not consistently without courage.”
9. She performed on the world stage
Angelou was invited by successive Presidents of the United States to serve in various capacities. President Ford appointed her to the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission and President Carter invited her to serve on the Presidential Commission for the International Year of the Woman. President Clinton requested that she compose a poem to read at his inauguration in 1993. Angelou’s reading of her poem On the Pulse of the Morning was broadcast live around the world, and sold a million copies in America alone.
From 1981, Angelou served as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina until she became ill in 2013. While teaching, she continued to appear on television and in films including Poetic Justice (1993) and the landmark television adaptation of Roots (1977). She directed numerous dramatic and documentary programs on television and directed a feature film, Down in the Delta, in 1996.
“If you’re going to leave a legacy, make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.”
R.I.P to one of the greats Dr Maya Angelou 1928-2014
10. She was a Phenomenal Woman
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