Maya Angelou Biography – poet, writer and author

Maya Angelou quick facts:

  • Born: Marguerite Annie Johnson
  • Born on: April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
  • Died: May 28, 2014 (aged 86)
  • Occupation: Poet, civil rights activist, dancer, film producer, television producer, playwright, film director, author, actress, professor
  • Language: English
  • Ethnicity: African American
  • Period: 1969–2014
  • Genre: Autobiography
  • Notable works: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, On the Pulse of Morning
  • Spouse:  Tosh Angelos (1951–54, div.), Paul du Feu (1973–81, div.)

Maya Angelou was born as Marguerite Annie Johnson on 4 April, 1928. She was an American poet, actress, dancer, author and singer.

Maya Angelou
By Office of the White House (via NPR, courtesy of the White House) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Early Years

Maya Angelou was born on 4 April 1928 in St Louis Missouri.  She was the middle child of Bailey Johnson (who was a navy dietitian and doorman) and Vivian (Baxter) Johnson (who was a card dealer and nurse).

As a very young child (3 years) her parents’ marriage ended and during her childhood she lived at various times with either her mother or grandmother.

Published material

Maya Angelou published the following:

  • seven autobiographies,
  • several books of poetry
  • three books of essays, and
  • she has also been credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years.

Maya Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies. These focus on her childhood and early adult experiences, they are:

  1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969): Covers her life up to 1944 at age 17
  2. Gather Together in My Name (1974): Covers her life from 1944–48
  3. Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (1976): Covers her life between 1949–55
  4. The Heart of a Woman (1981): Covers her life between 1957–62
  5. All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986):  Covers her life between 1962–65
  6. A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002): Covers her life between 1965–68
  7. Mom & Me & Mom (2013): overview of her life

Her first book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (1969) brought her international recognition and acclaim.  This book discussed and explored aspects of her personal life.


Maya Angelou became a poet and writer after a series of occupations as a young adult.

Her occupations during a young adult included nightclub dancer and performer, fry cook, cast member of the opera Porgy and Bess, prostitute, journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa and coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

She was a writer, director, actor, and producer of movies, plays and public television programs.

In 1982, she earned the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

She was active in the Civil Rights movement, and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

Public Appearances

During the 1990s, Maya Angelou made around 80 appearances a year on the lecture circuit and she continued this through to her eighties.

In 1993, Maya Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” (1993) at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, making her the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.

Impact on Society

Maya Angelou published works have been considered a defense of Black culture and she is well respected as a spokesperson for women and black people.

Such has been her influence, a number of attempts have been made to ban her books from some U.S. libraries.  Her works are however still widely used in schools and universities worldwide.

Maya Angelou’s major works have been labeled as autobiographical fiction, but many critics have characterized them as autobiographies.

The books have made a deliberate attempt to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre.

The focus of Maya Angelou’s books center on themes such as racism, identity, family, and travel.

She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees


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