Maya Angelou Essays

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928.

She spent her childhood in California, Arkansas, and St. Louis, and lived with her paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, for most of her childhood years. At age 8, she was raped by her mother's boyfriend in St.Louis; this led to years of muteness for Maya, which she finally overcame through help from a caring neighbor, and a great love for literature.

At age 16, Maya became the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco; in later years, she became the first black woman screenwriter and director in Hollywood. In the 60's, she was a friend to both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X; she served in the SCLC with Dr. King, and worked for years for the civil rights movement. Also in the 1960's, she worked and travelled in Africa, as a journalist and teacher, and helping with several African independence movements. In 1970, she published her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, to great acclaim, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry the following year.

Angelou has had a long and distinguished career, and is a poet, writer, civil-rights activist, and historian, among other things. She was also an accomplished actress, dancer, and singer, having performed in a touring production of Porgy and Bess , Jean Genet's play, The Blacks, and the acclaimed television series, Roots. Angelou is probably best known for her autobiographical works, which include I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and All God's Children Need Travelling Shoes, and fill a total of five best-selling volumes.

In 1993, Angelou read her poem, "On the Pulse of Morning," at the inauguration of President Clinton; this was one of the high points of her career, and again brought her into the public spotlight. She was a professor of American History at Wake Forest University, North Carolina, and made regular lecture and speaking tours.

Maya Angelou passed away on May 28th, 2014.

The works of Maya Angelou encompass autobiography, plays, poetic, and television producer. She also had an active directing, acting, and speaking career. She is best known for her books, including her series of seven autobiographies, starting with the critically acclaimed I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969).

All my work, my life, everything I do is about survival, not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated.

Maya Angelou[1]

Angelou's autobiographies are distinct in style and narration, and "stretch over time and place",[2] from Arkansas to Africa and back to the US. They take place from the beginnings of World War II to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.[2] Angelou wrote collections of essays, including Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993) and Even the Stars Look Lonesome (1997), which writer Hilton Als called her "wisdom books" and "homilies strung together with autobiographical texts".[3] Angelou used the same editor throughout her writing career, Robert Loomis, an executive editor at Random House, until he retired in 2011.[4] Angelou said regarding Loomis: "We have a relationship that's kind of famous among publishers."[5]

She was one of the most honored writers of her generation, earning an extended list of honors and awards, as well as more than 30 honorary degrees.[6] She was a prolific writer of poetry; her volume Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie (1971) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize,[7] and she was chosen by President Bill Clinton to recite her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" during his inauguration in 1993.[8]

Angelou's successful acting career included roles in numerous plays, films, and television programs, such as in the television mini-series Roots in 1977. Her screenplay Georgia, Georgia (1972) was the first original script by a black woman to be produced.[9][10] and she was the first African-American woman to direct a major motion picture, Down in the Delta, in 1998.[11] Since the 1990s, Angelou participated in the lecture circuit,[8] which she continued into her eighties.[12][13]


Unless otherwise stated, the items in this list are from Gillespie et al, pp. 186–191.



Personal essays[edit]


Children's books[edit]

  • Life Doesn't Frighten Me (1998). New York: Stewart, Tabori, and Chang. ISBN 1-55670-288-4
  • My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken and Me (1994). New York: Knopf Books. ISBN 0-517-59667-9
  • Kofi and His Magic (1996). New York: Knopf Books. ISBN 0-517-59667-9
  • Maya's World series (2004). New York: Random House:


  • Cabaret for Freedom (musical revue), with Godfrey Cambridge, 1960
  • The Least of These, 1966
  • The Best of These (drama), 1966
  • Gettin' up Stayed on My Mind, 1967
  • Sophocles, Ajax (adaptation), 1974
  • And Still I Rise (writer/director), 1976
  • Moon on a Rainbow Shawl (director), 1978[23]

Film and television[edit]

  • Blacks, Blues, Black! (writer, producer and host – ten one-hour programs, National Education Television), 1968
  • Georgia, Georgia (writer for script and musical score), Sweden, 1972
  • All Day Long (writer/director), 1974
  • PBS documentaries (1975):
  • Who Cares About Kids & Kindred Spirits (KERA-TV, Dallas, Texas)
  • Maya Angelou: Rainbow in the Clouds (WTVS-TV, Detroit, Michigan)
  • To the Contrary (Maryland Public Television)
  • Tapestry and Circles
  • Assignment America (six one-half hour programs), 1975
  • Part One: The Legacy; Part Two: The Inheritors (writer and host), 1976
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (writer for script and musical score), 1979
  • Sister, Sister (writer), 20th Century Fox Television, 1982
  • Brewster Place (writer), ABC, 1990
  • Down in the Delta (director), Miramax Films, 1998
  • The Black Candle (poetry, narration), Starz, 2012

Plays and films acted in (partial list)[edit]

  • Porgy and Bess, 1954–1955
  • Calypso, 1957
  • The Blacks, 1960
  • Mother Courage, 1964
  • Look Away, 1973
  • Roots, ABC, 1977
  • Runaway, Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions, 1993
  • Poetic Justice, 1993
  • Touched by an Angel ("Reunion"), CBS, 1995
  • How to Make an American Quilt, Universal Pictures, 1995
  • Madea's Family Reunion, Tyler Perry Studios, 2006


Spoken-word albums[edit]

  • The Poetry of Maya Angelou, GWP Records, 1969
  • Women in Business, 1981
  • On the Pulse of Morning, Random House Audio, 1993[25]
  • A Song Flung Up to Heaven, Random House Audio, 2002[25]



  1. ^McPherson, Dolly A. (1990). Order Out of Chaos: The Autobiographical Works of Maya Angelou. New York: Peter Lang Publishing. pp. 10–11. ISBN 0-8204-1139-6. 
  2. ^ abLupton, Mary Jane (1998). Maya Angelou: A Critical Companion. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. p. 1. ISBN 0-313-30325-8. 
  3. ^Als, Hilton (2002-08-05). "Songbird: Maya Angelou takes another look at herself". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2012-01-01. 
  4. ^Italie, Hillel (2011-05-06). "Robert Loomis, editor of Styron, Angelou, retires". The Washington Times. Associated Press. Retrieved 2012-01-01. 
  5. ^Tate, Claudia (1999). "Maya Angelou: An Interview". In Joanne M. Braxton. Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: A Casebook. New York: Oxford Press. p. 155. ISBN 0-19-511606-2. 
  6. ^Moore, Lucinda (2003-04-01). "A Conversation with Maya Angelou at 75". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2007-10-02. 
  7. ^Gillespie et al, p. 103
  8. ^ abManegold, Catherine S. (1993-01-20). "An Afternoon with Maya Angelou; A Wordsmith at Her Inaugural Anvil". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-02. 
  9. ^ abBrown, Avonie (1997-01-04). "Maya Angelou: The Phenomenal Woman Rises Again". New York Amsterdam News. 88 (1). p. 2. 
  10. ^"Maya Angelou: A Brief Biography". African Overseas Union. Retrieved 2007-10-07. 
  11. ^Gillespie et al, p. 144
  12. ^Younge, Gary (2002-05-25). "No surrender". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 2012-01-01. 
  13. ^Gillespie et al, p. 9
  14. ^Maya Angelou (2010). I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Random House Publishing Group. ISBN 030747772X. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  15. ^Maya Angelou (2012). The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou (illustrated ed.). Random House Publishing Group. p. 175. ISBN 030743205X. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  16. ^Moyer, Homer E. (2003). The R.A.T. Real-World Aptitude Test: Preparing Yourself for Leaving Home. Sterling, Virginia: Capital Books. p. 297. ISBN 1-931868-42-5. 
  17. ^A poem from this collection, "My Life Has Turned to Blue", was made into the title track of Nancy Wilson's album, Turned to Blue, in 2006.
  18. ^ abWaldron, Clarence (2006-12-25). "Maya Angelou: On Christmas, Dave Chappelle and What Inspires Her". Jet (110). p. 29. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  19. ^Angelou, Maya. "On the Pulse of Morning". Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library. Archived from the original on 11 February 2011. Retrieved 28 May 2007. 
  20. ^Long, Richard (November 2005). "Maya Angelou". Smithsonian. 36 (8). p. 84. 
  21. ^Vena, Jocelyn (2009-07-07). "Maya Angelou's Poem about Michael Jackson: 'We Had Him'". Retrieved 2009-07-11. 
  22. ^Eby, Margaret (12 December 2013). "Maya Angelou pens poem for Nelson Mandela: 'His Day is Done'".New York Daily News. Retrieved 16 February 2014
  23. ^Wolf, Matt (March 12, 2014). "The National Theatre's Global Flair". The New York Times. Retrieved September 2, 2014. 
  24. ^ abcLetkemann, Jessica (28 May 2014). "Maya Angelou's Life in Music: Ashford & Simpson Collab, Calypso Album & More". Billboard Magazine. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  25. ^ abMaughan, Shannon (2003-03-03). "Grammy Gold". Publishers Weekly. 250 (9). p. 38. 
  26. ^Waggoner, Martha (2006-09-13). "Maya Angelou to Host Show on XM Radio". Fox News. Retrieved 2007-09-28. 

Works cited[edit]

  • Gillespie, Marcia Ann, Rosa Johnson Butler, and Richard A. Long. (2008). Maya Angelou: A Glorious Celebration. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-385-51108-7
Angelou reciting "On the Pulse of Morning" at Bill Clinton's presidential inauguration in 1993

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