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MAYA ANGELOUBy:Alexandria Combs1
Who was Maya Angelou? Some would say that she is a great poet of all time and I agree but in my opinion she was much more. She was a poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, and civil rights activist. Maya Angelou, born as Magarite Johnson. The prolific African-American author, is best known for her several autobiographies and her several volumes of poetry, which have generated great interest and critical commendation because they embody her persistence in overcoming social obstacles and her struggle for self-acceptance. She has overcome a difficult and traumatic childhood to become a prize-winning poet and author of several best-selling autobiographies. Angelou’s life experience proved to be a disclaimer of Euro-American cultural assumptions and a statement of African-American cultural norms.During her early years Angelou was raised with her brother Bailey in the racially segregated South by her paternal grandmother, Annie “Momma” Henderson, as told in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1974). Momma, with her strength and independence during tough Depression times, was a powerful role model and source of inspiration for young Maya. She nevertheless quickly internalized the significance of being Black in a racist society. “It was awfulto be a Negro and have no control over my life” (Caged Bird). As a young girl she felt her mother’s absence painfully. Summoned to live with her mother in St. Louis at age 7, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. After his trial, conviction, and murder, Angelou retreated into a voluntary silence, which lasted 5 years. Sent back to Stamps, Angelou was sustained and helped to heal by two strong women, Momma and Mrs. Bertha Flowers, a local educated Black woman, who instilled in the still silent Angelou a love of poetry and drew her out of silence. Angelou later joined her mother in San Francisco, where she also pursued drama and dance on a 2
scholarship.As she struggled to find her identity, these adolescent years were turbulent ones, including a month living with homeless children in a car lot. She credits that experience with really teaching her tolerance for the first time. At sixteen, Angelou unintentionally became pregnant and gave birth to her son Clyde “Guy” Bailey Johnson, which was “the best thing that ever happened to me.” In Gather Together in my Name (1974), determined to support herself and