Dr. Maya Angelou – The Renaissance Woman

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“Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away.”
-Maya Angelou

For those of us who don’t know Dr. Maya Angelou, she was a prolific writer, poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker and civil rights activist.
Angelou, who died on May 28, 2014 at the age of 86, was known for many things throughout her life. The author is hailed as the Global Renaissance Woman as she inspired and empowered people with her works.
The poetess was born on April 4, 1928 at St. Louis, Missouri, USA as Marguerite Annie Johnson.

maya angelou trauma

Traumatic life
The most important journey of her life that turned her into one of the most influential voices of our times began when she was three-years-old and was living in California.
Her parents Bailey Baxter and Vivian Baxter got divorced.
Maya and her brother Bailey Baxter II were sent to their paternal grandmother Annie Henderson’s love and care. Henderson raised Maya, as she was called by her brother. She is credited for shaping up Maya into the woman she is.

Maya’s grandmother was the only Black woman to own a grocery store. However, growing up in Stamps, Arkansas during the 1920’s, Maya faced racial brutality and poverty.

When Angelou’s father sent her and her brother to their mother’s care, her life turned traumatic. Her mother’s boyfriend raped her. With the result, Maya and her brother were sent back to their grandmother, where she was inspired to write and perform.
At the age of 13, she returned to her mother in San Francisco with Bailey II (brother).
In San Francisco, she finished high school overcoming a lot of hardships and at the age of 16 gave birth to a son named Guy Clyde Johnson.
She was married twice in her lifetime. First to Tosh Angelos (1949-1952) and then to Paul Du Feu (1973-1980).
maya calypso lady

‘Calypso Lady’
As a teenager, Angelou’s love for the Arts won her a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School. In 1954 and 1955, she toured Europe with a production of Opera Porgy and Bess. She studied modern dance with Martha Graham, danced with Alvin Ailey on television for a variety of shows.
In 1957, she recorded her first album, ‘Calypso Lady’. In 1958, she moved to New York, where she joined the Harlem Writers Guild, acted in historic Off-Broadway production of Jean Genet’s ‘The Blacks’ and wrote and performed Cabaret for Freedom.

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Inspired & Influenced
The civil rights activist and writer was so influenced by some important people in her life that she said they brought out the best in her. She credits her lovely grandmother whom she called ‘Momma’, and her uncle and extended family for inspiring her to write and perform. Her good friends Martin Luther King and Malcolm X inspired her in everything she did.
Her writing style is heavily influenced by KJV Bible and William Shakespeare. Dr. Angelou penned more than two dozen books and collections including two cookbooks throughout her life.
Much of her work deals with reoccurring themes like love, heartbreak, family, race and feminism. Her books were critically acclaimed and treasured by many readers.

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Autobiographical works
I know why the caged bird sings (1969) is the first of the seven autobiographical works, and her most famous and critically acclaimed book. Nominated for the National Book Award and named one of the All-Time Best 100 Non-Fiction works, Caged Bird was a revolutionary account of what it meant to be young and black in America.
Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie (1971) is Dr. Angelou’s first collected work of poetry. Just Give was written largely before her first memoir was even published, many of the poems originating as song lyrics. The book is divided into two sections: ‘Just Before the World Ends’ features poems on surviving as an African-American in a white society, while ‘Where Love Is a Scream of Anguish’ features poems on love. This collection became a best-seller and was nominated for Pulitzer Award in 1972.
Her other famed works include Still I Rise (1978) and On the Pulse of Morning (1993), which was recited by her at the inauguration of the US President Bill Clinton.
The Heart of a Woman (1981) is the fourth edition in her autobiographies, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey now (1993) is the collection of her essays, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas (1976) is the third autobiography written by her. Mom & Me & Mom (2013) is the last of her books.

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Her message
“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,” said Dr. Angelou.
Dr. Angelou’s words and actions continue to stir our souls, energize our bodies, liberate our minds, and heal our hearts.