Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel ”. During the time of Maya Angelou’s life, segregation and women’s rights were huge controversial topics that were talked and discussed about every day. She is a strong woman who overcame adversity and hardships in order to succeed. Maya Angelou’s strength came from obstacles in her childhood, traumatic experiences, and hardships from prejudice fueling her poetic voice.
To begin, Maya Angelou’s childhood hurdles affected most of her attitude during her teen and adult years. “She was born Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, to Bailey and Vivian Baxter Johnson. Her brother Bailey gave her the name Maya (Bloom).” In her work, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, she speaks a lot on the characters in her childhood and what she went through. When she was three, after her parents’ divorce, she was sent, along with her brother, to live with her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. At the age of eight, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend.Order now
Days after the trial, her abuser was found dead in an alley, apparently a victim of her uncle’s assault (Kallen). Her young mind drew a relationship between the tragedy that she endured and her abuser’s death and decided to become mute and not speak for the next five years of her life. While mute, she had grown a passion for reading. Her silence led her to think and discover new hobbies for herself. She was reading everything from William Shakespeare to Langston Hughes. Reading helped her get through this tough time. Maya did not speak again until 1940, when she moved back to San Francisco and was reunited with her mother and new stepfather. Angelou’s mother had helped her throughout this really tough time, that affected her in a major way. Vivian was Angelou’s rock, her motherly love and ora comforted Maya in a way no one else could (O’Neale 47). Vivian’s support and love helped Angelou with getting through the situation. Throughout her teenage life, Maya was hit with different emotions and situations in which she had to find ways to handle.
To continue, throughout her life, Angelou had to deal with several traumatic experiences. Her mother moved her and her brother to San Francisco, during her high school years, where she attended George Washington High School. “Then won a two-year scholarship to study acting and dancing at night at the California Labor School (Kallen).” At the California Labor School, she studied dance and performance, during the evening, from 1941 to 1945. After years of living with her mother, she moved with her father for a short period of time. In her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she talks about what it was like living with her father.
“She spent a few days at her father’s trailer in southern California, hoping to become better acquainted with him, but she was poorly treated by Dolores, his live-in girlfriend ( Thursby).” Maya and her father made a decision to take a trip to Mexico, and when they returned, Dolores still did not want Maya to stay with them. After a quarrel between the two, fueled by anger, Dolores stabbed Maya. Her father had quickly taken care of her, and decided to leave her at a friend’s trailer for the evening, but when she woke up the next morning, he was nowhere to be found (Thursby).
During this time period,the actions of her father and Dolores, caused Maya to create different questions about her appearance and personality, this stirred up many conflicting emotions. Her many insecurities induced her to run away for a month. “Although a good student, Maya was fraught with adolescent insecurities, especially after she moved in with her father in Los Angeles in 1943 (West).” She had a relationship in high school, with the most popular guy in school, which resulted in her pregnancy with her son, Guy. She had given birth to her son the same year she graduated high school, in 1944. Although, she faced many difficulties growing up and throughout her teen years, she did not let that affect her from becoming successful.
Furthermore, as an aspiring black women author and poet, she faced several prejudice set of circumstances throughout her career. “Angelou’s literary works have generated great interest because they reflect her tenacity in overcoming social obstacles and her struggle for self acceptance (CLC) .” Ever since she was young, Maya was dealing with situations in which she did not get the opportunity to do something because she was young, a female, or because she was black. Being a young mother, Maya struggled to find ways to support her and her son financially. She found herself working three different jobs as a Creole-style cook, nightclub waitress, and a streetcar conductor (Bloom). She was the first black female streetcar conductor.
In 1947, things began to get a little challenging for her, she began to work as a prostitute for a short period of time (West). In the early 1950s, Maya met a man by the name of Tosh Angelos, which is why her last name is Angelou, it is a variation of his last name. She met him when she worked in a record store in San Francisco (Bloom). Although, she set new boundaries and goals as a black woman, getting where she wanted to be as a performer and an author was still challenging for her during this time period. “That said, if the larger society does not know who Black women are, only who it wants them to be; if even Black men as scholars and thinkers writing in this century could not be “free” the images of Black women in the national psyche, it remained for Black women to accomplish the task themselves (O’Neale 41).”
Angelou had to step out of the box and find new ways to accomplish her dreams and aspirations. During the years of her marriage, Angelou had found herself starting to sing and dance. She was blowing away audiences show after show. She became a professional singer and dancer at the Purple Onion, a cabaret in California. She had several opportunities to audition for shows, including the production of Porgy and Bess and she did, in fact, receive the part in this George Gershwin musical, giving her the golden opportunity to travel widely with the cast in 1954 and 1955 (Bloom). She also appeared on the Off-Broadway play Calypso Heatwave and recorded “Miss Calypso” for Liberty Records. “Three years later, Angelou and her son moved to New York, where she joined the Harlem Writers Guild and collaborated to produce, direct, and star in Cabaret for Freedom, which raised funds for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (Bloom).”
During her process of moving, Angelou divorced Tosh. Her move to New York allowed her to become more incorporated in the literary and political scene. Angelou was still performing and singing in shows from time to time. In 1961, she fell in love with a South African lawyer, and soon moved to Africa with him, with her son. She returned to the United States in 1965, when she was hit with two shocking events, Malcolm X’s passing in February of 1965, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s passing in 1968. Three years later, in 1971, she had published a volume of poetry Just Give Me A Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie, which were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
“In the last three decades she has written and produced several prize-winning documentaries, including Afro-Americans in the Arts, a PBS special for which she received the Golden Eagle, and Black, Blues, Black,a 10-part program about the prominent role of African culture in American life. With Georgia, Georgia, she became the first black woman to have a screenplay produced. She also wrote the script and musical score for the television version of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Bloom).”
Maya had a break in career, she was given the chance to really start her career as an author. She has written over one hundred poems and written several books. The affairs throughout her life, helped her to write with passion, and to not fear anything that might be thrown her way.
Maya Angelou’s life consisted of hardships that sculpted her into an amazing woman overall. Maya Angelou’s strength came from all of the tough experiences she went through throughout her childhood, the obstacles she had to face throughout her early adulthood, and bias situations that fueled her poetic voice. The occurrences that she went through, helped her become one of the best authors of all time. Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength. ”
- Bloom, Harold, ed. Maya Angelou. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999.
- http://web.a.ebscohost.com/lrc/detail/detail?vid=7&sid=bcd70ebe-1807-4bfe-b6d7-08c40b8b1b36%40sessionmgr4009&bdata=JnNpdGU9bHJjLWxpdmU%3d#AN=103331MSA10139830000012&db=lfh. Accessed 14 January 2019.
- Kallen, Stuart A., Maya Angelou: A Woman of Words, Deeds, and Dreams, 1993; King, Sarah E., Maya Angelou: Greeting the Morning, 1994; Lisandrelli, Elaine Slivinski, Maya Angelou: More Than a Poet, 1996; Shapiro, Miles, Maya Angelou: Author, 1993; Shuker, Nancy, Maya Angelou, 1990. https://explore.proquest.com/elibrary/document/1971154422?searchid=1547566537&accountid=35776. Accessed 11 January 2019.
- Bloom, Harold. “Angelou, Maya.” Maya Angelou, Chelsea House, 2001. Bloom’s Literature,
- http://online.infobase.com/HRC/LearningCenter/Details/12?articleId=4852.Accessed 29 Nov. 2018.
- “Maya Angelou.” CLC, vol. 64.
- Thursby, Jacqueline. “Critical Companion to Maya Angelou.” Infobase Learning – Login, 2011,
- http://online.infobase.com/HRC/LearningCenter/Details/12?articleId=475120. Accessed 12 January 2019.
- West, Sandra. “: Student’s Encyclopedia of Great American Writers, Volume 5.” Infobase Learning – Login, 2010,http://online.infobase.com/HRC/LearningCenter/Details/12?articleId=475118.
- O’Neale,Sondra “Maya Angelou”, Reconstruction of Self, 1998. Accessed 12 January 2019.