Maya Angelou: From Brothel to Books

" I hated the word NIGGER and never believed it to be a term of endearment, no matter who used it ." These are the words of Maya Angelou, a successful author, activist and poet. Whose, life has not been very glorious.

Maya was born at Long Beach, CA in 1928. The name given to her at birth was Marguerite Johnson. She received the name Maya from her brother who had a habit of addressing her as "Maya sister." Maya's parents became divorced when she was very young. Going through school without both parents in the home, Maya's formal education ended after high-school. Although she received a scholarship to study drama in New York City, she returned to Arkansas to be with her grandmother.

Her grandmother, Annie Henderson taught her that "Courtesy cost nothing as long as one had dignity. "Maya idolized her grandmother due to the sacrifices that she made to raise Maya, her brother and her own two sons.

When Maya turned 17, she had a son which she named Guy Johnson. While in Arkansas, Maya was offered a job in New York by a man by the name of John Killens. Not wanting to travel with an infant, she left Guy in Arkansas with a longtime lover until she got settled in New York. After living in a lifestyle she did not care for, Maya went to San Diego when she was 18.

In San Diego, Maya got a job as a waitress at the Creole Cafe. That job did not last long because she found a job making much more money, by managing a BROTHEL! Feeling that this lifestyle was not for her, she received a new job at a real estate office.

When her son was five years old, she would pick him up from the babysitter's every evening. For two years they both spun like water spiders. Maya began working her second job at a record store to defray fees, the expensive babysitter's and rent. Guy stayed at the babysitter's house six days and five nights a week. When she would pay the sitter for the week he would grab the hem of her dress, wrap his arms around her legs and hold on screaming. Once done, she preyed his arms loose, then picked him up and walked down the street as he screamed for blocks. On her days off they would go to the park, the zoo, the San Francisco Museum of Art, a cartoon movie house or any cheap or free place of entertainment.

Although, welfare was absolutely forbidden. " My pride had been starched by a family who assumed unlimited authority in its own affairs." There was not a shadow of a husband-figure man on her horizon. " No, husbands were rarer than common garden variety unicorns."

Becoming a young woman that could speak six different languages, Maya began writing in the mid-60's. Her writing is known as " autonomous autobiography." She is a gifted poet and outstanding novelist with her first story about her " girlhood " in " I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings." Narrating her stories has become much more fascinating than fiction, by telling her life as a singer, dancer, mother, director, producer, actress, playwright, social and political activist." The autobiographical literature created by Angelou is unique in American writing," says Richard A. Long. Maya Angelou has inspired many Black women since the late 1960's. These include Toni Cade Bambara, who is known for her stories through her novel "The Salt Eaters". Toni Morrison has been praised for her novels including "Sula" and "Song of Solomon". Alice Walker a poet, novelist, and short story writer whose "The Color Purple" became a bestseller. Maya Angelou has brought her own life to circumspect inspection in her work by taking autobiography as a genre to be explored. In her many public appearances, she has presented writing of poetry in the traditions of Black poets.

When Maya is not inspiring upcoming writers, she treats herself to the vocals of Billie Holiday, Billy Eckstine, Nat King Cole, Louis Jordan, Bull Moose Jackson, Charles Parker, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Al Haig, and Howard McGhee. Music is her refugee. "Blues belonged to late afternoons and the singers' lyrics of lost love spoke to my solitude." --Maya Angelou.

Note: Please review one student's analysis of Maya Angelou's poem entitled "Equality."


Angelou, Maya. Gather Together In My Name. Random House Inc. 1974

____________. The Heart of a Woman. Random House Inc. 1981

____________.  Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 1976

____________. I Shall Not Be Moved. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 1990

Long, Richard A. Black American. Chartwell Books, Inc. 1985

Applebee, Arthur N. ; Bermudez, Andrea B. ; Blau, Sheridan ; Caplan, Rebekah ; Dorn, Franchelle ; Elbow, Peter ; Hynds, Susan ; Langer, Judith A. ; Marshall, James. The Language of Literature. The University of Georgia Press. 1992

Jennifer P.,
Autumn P.,
Jenny W.

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