Map of NC

Map of NC

March 27, 2019

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou is one of America's most acclaimed authors and poets, known best for her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which details her early years. She was born in Missouri in 1928, her parents gave her the name Marguerite Johnson, but it was her older brother Bailey Jr. that gave her the name we know her by. "Maya" was a name derived from years of him calling him "mya sister." She spent her early years being raised by her father in Stamps, Arkansas or at her mother's home in St. Louis. After a traumatic event in her youth, she went mute for a number of years, but it was during this time that she fostered a passion for literature. Her teacher, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, introduced her to literary greats, including black women writers.

Her early work was not as a writer, but an eclectic group of jobs ranging from dancer to street car conductor before she began to involve herself in the Civil Rights Movement. She worked as a coordinator for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and worked as a freelance writer and teacher in Africa. It was upon her return to the United States in the 1960s that she wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first of six autobiographies which chronicle her life. It faced controversy in its day for its portrayal of race and violence, but inspired other black women writers to pen their own stories.

In 1981, Maya Angelou returned to the southern United States. She moved to Winston-Salem to teach at Wake Forest University, where she dedicated herself to education. Her writing pursuits did not end with her teaching career, however, and in the intervening years she directed movies, wrote novels and poetry, and more. She was chosen to recite her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration and was awarded the Medal of Presidential Freedom in 2010, the highest honor a civilian can attain. She lived the rest of her life in Winston-Salem, dying in her home there in 2014. To this day her works are inspirations to countless creators, and her influence can still be felt in popular music and literature.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Maya Angelou's other novels can be found at your local library or bookstore. If you prefer poetry to prose, collections such as And Still I Rise or Phenomenal Women, among others, are also available. You can find a complete list of Maya Angelou's works at the NC Literary Map!

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