Maya Angelou was born in 1928 in St. Louis Missouri. She was an American poet, singer, author and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, 3 books of essays, and a few poetry books. Her first autobiography, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” (1969) detailed her life up to 17 years old. It brought her immense fame, as she inspired women of all ages through her story of a girl child in the midst of trauma, racism, depression, and self-doubt. She held a number of jobs over her lifetime including fry cook, sex worker, cast member of the show Porgy and Bess, professor, journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa, and the coordinator of Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She worked tirelessly for the civil rights movement in America, befriending Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. She has been awarded over 50 honorary degrees from universities.
Her early life was tumultuous. She was raped by her mother’s boyfriend Freeman when she was 8 years old. When she told her brother and her family, Freeman was tried and convicted. He only served one day in jail. 4 days after his release, he was murdered, presumably by her uncles. Maya became mute for almost 5 years. She said, "I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone..." It was during this time that she began to immerse in literature and books. Angelou credits a teacher, Bertha Flowers, with helping her re-gain her voice.
She regained her voice and became the voice of not only her generation, but a few more. She spent her life inspiring women, men, black and white, and fought for the rights and happiness and strength of all. She has made appearances on hundreds of TV shows, and many more appearances on the lecture circuit over her lifetime. She dedicated her life to helping create an inspired and enlightened society. In 1993 she read one of her poems at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. She was the first poet to make a recitation since 1961 when Robert Frost read one of his poems for the inauguration of John F. Kennedy.
According to Gary Younge of The Guardian (2009); “To know Maya’s story is to simultaneously wonder what on earth you have been doing with your own life and feel bad that you didn’t have to go through half the things she has.”
She passed away in 2014, but she will forever live on as a voice for women and girls, having made herself a central figure in teaching through her actions and words that we can rise above and accomplish anything we set our minds to.
A few of my favorite 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."
"When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."