What can anyone write about Maya Angelou, a woman whose words were so beautiful, so powerful, so profound and changed the lives of so many people that could possibly articulate or adequately compliment her incredible life and compassionate soul? As she is remembered around the world today and we share her words and finest moments, hopefully we can pause long enough to really understand what she was saying.
Maya inspired millions by offering her poetic words of hope and understanding to those affected by injustices in our world. Her voice was loud and clear and gentle and persuasive. Her presence was grand. Her journey was long. She was a poet, a teacher, a spiritual guide, an artist, a writer, an actor, a director, a civil rights activist, a believer, a leader, a mother. In a video produced by OWN, Maya’s son, Guy Johnson [pictured above] talked about her spirit.
She thinks that the divine hand is in all things. She has faith that’s like a rock — you can stand on it. She speaks to our humanity and she reminds us that we are both brother and sister to the rest of the human race. Keep on speaking, Ma. We need the lessons, the beautiful poems, books, movies, dances, celebrations and love.
Also during the episode, Oprah asked Angelou what she is most proud of.
My greatest blessing has been the birth of my son. My next greatest blessing has been my ability to turn people into children of mine.
Maya used the power of words and poetry effortlessly and even explored mainstream media to project her vision in her directorial debut, Down in the Delta. The film focuses on Loretta, a strong African-American woman who overcomes the pitfalls of her past to lead her family.
Perhaps one of the most profound moments we have relating to Maya on video is from President Clinton’s Inauguration when she recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning”. Watch the entire video, courtesy of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library.
Dr. Maya Angelou is one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time. Hailed as a global renaissance woman, Dr. Angelou is a celebrated poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist.
Born on April 4th, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, Dr. Angelou was raised in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas. In Stamps, Dr. Angelou experienced the brutality of racial discrimination, but she also absorbed the unshakable faith and values of traditional African-American family, community, and culture.
As a teenager, Dr. Angelou’s love for the arts won her a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School. At 14, she dropped out to become San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor. She later finished high school, giving birth to her son, Guy, a few weeks after graduation. As a young single mother, she supported her son by working as a waitress and cook, however her passion for music, dance, performance, and poetry would soon take center stage.
In 1954 and 1955, Dr. Angelou toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. She studied modern dance with Martha Graham, danced with Alvin Ailey on television variety shows and, in 1957, recorded her first album, Calypso Lady. In 1958, she moved to New York, where she joined the Harlem Writers Guild, acted in the historic Off-Broadway production of Jean Genet’s The Blacks and wrote and performed Cabaret for Freedom.
In 1960, Dr. Angelou moved to Cairo, Egypt where she served as editor of the English language weekly The Arab Observer. The next year, she moved to Ghana where she taught 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.
During her years abroad, Dr. Angelou read and studied voraciously, mastering French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti. While in Ghana, she met with Malcolm X and, in 1964, returned to America to help him build his new Organization of African American Unity.
Shortly after her arrival in the United States, Malcolm X was assassinated, and the organization dissolved. Soon after X’s assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked Dr. Angelou to serve as Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King’s assassination, falling on her birthday in 1968, left her devastated.
With the guidance of her friend, the novelist James Baldwin, she began work on the book that would become I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Published in 1970, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published to international acclaim and enormous popular success. The list of her published verse, non-fiction, and fiction now includes more than 30 bestselling titles.
A trailblazer in film and television, Dr. Angelou wrote the screenplay and composed the score for the 1972 film Georgia, Georgia. Her script, the first by an African American woman ever to be filmed, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
She continues to appear on television and in films including the landmark television adaptation of Alex Haley’s Roots (1977) and John Singleton’s Poetic Justice (1993). In 1996, she directed her first feature film, Down in the Delta. In 2008, she composed poetry for and narrated the award-winning documentary The Black Candle, directed by M.K. Asante.
Dr. Angelou has served on two presidential committees, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and has received 3 Grammy Awards. President Clinton requested that she compose a poem to read at his inauguration in 1993. Dr. Angelou’s reading of her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning” was broadcast live around the world.
Dr. Angelou has received over 50 honorary degrees and is Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.
Dr. Angelou’s words and actions continue to stir our souls, energize our bodies, liberate our minds, and heal our hearts.
| Bio via Maya Angelou