Women’s History Month: Maya Angelou

“You may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise.” – Maya Angelou


New York Times

Maya Angelou, 1969

Grace O'Malley, MHS Media Writer

Maya Angelou was many things: a poet, singer, dancer, activist, actress, memoirist, and a storyteller.

Her life began on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis. At a young age, her parents separated, and she was sent to live with her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas.When she was seven years old, she was assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend. He was later convicted and killed after being released. Angelou felt guilty and responsible for this and did not speak for several years.

As a teenager, she discovered a love for English and literature. She wrote poetry and essays, and memorized lines from Edgar Allen Poe and William Shakespeare.

She moved in with her mother, who now lived in California, and began taking dance and singing lessons at California Labor School. During this time, she also became the first black woman to operate a streetcar.

Angelou graduated from high school and soon after had a son named Guy.

She began to work all kinds of jobs to support her son, and professionally sang and danced.

In the 1950s, she moved to New York and joined the Harlem Writers Guild. Angelou also was a part of the Civil Rights Movement and began acting.

She released her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), which was an autobiography about her childhood. Although it is banned from some schools due to its themes, it resonated with those who had experienced similar things. Angelou would later write another six memoirs.

In addition, Angelou wrote poetry. Some of her works include Just Give me a Drink of Water ‘fore I Diie, which earned her a Pulitzer Prize nomination, and On the Pulse of the Morning, which earned her a Grammy. She produced spoken albums of poetry, and published collections of her work. She even delivered a poem at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.

Angelou also worked on stage and screen by writing, producing, performing, and directing plays and movies.

Angelou received several awards and recognition for her work, including the National Medal of Arts in 2000 from President Bill Clinton, and President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Maya Angelou died on May 28, 2014. However, she will always be remembered and honored for her contributions to literature and the arts.