kids encyclopedia robot

Maya Angelou facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
Maya Angelou
Angelou in 1993
Angelou in 1993
Born Marguerite Annie Johnson
(1928-04-04)April 4, 1928
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Died May 28, 2014(2014-05-28) (aged 86)
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, U.S.
  • Writer
  • poet
  • civil rights activist
Period 1951–2014
  • Memoir
  • poetry
Tosh Angelos
(m. 1951; div. 1954)
Paul du Feu
(m. 1974; div. 1983)
Children 1


Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Ann Johnson (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014), was an American author and poet. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry. Maya took part in several plays, movies, and television shows spanning more than fifty years. She received dozens of awards and over thirty honorary doctoral degrees. Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her life up to the age of seventeen which made her famous.

Early life

Maya Angelou Birthplace
Maya Angelou birthplace

Angelou was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the second child of Bailey Johnson, a doorman and navy dietitian, and Vivian (Baxter) Johnson, a nurse and card dealer. When Angelou was three, her parents' marriage ended, and her father sent her and her siblings to Stamps, Arkansas, alone by train, to live with their paternal grandmother Annie Henderson. Henderson's general store had done well during the Great Depression and World War II, and she "made wise and honest investments."

Four years later, the children's father returned them to their mother's care in St. Louis. At the age of 8, Angelou suffered a phsycological trauma and became mute for about 5 years. She and her brother were sent back to their grandmother.

A teacher and friend of her family, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, introduced Angelou to authors such as Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Douglas Johnson, and James Weldon Johnson. These authors would affect her life and career as well as other black female artists like Frances Harper, Anne Spencer, and Jessie Fauset. Angelou said that Flowers helped her speak again.

When Angelou was 14, she and her brother moved in with their mother once again, who had since moved to Oakland, California. During World War II, Angelou attended the California Labor School. Before graduating, she worked as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.

Later life

Caged Bird cover
Cover from the first edition of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings published in 1969

Before becoming a poet and writer, Angelou tried other occupations as a young adult. Maya worked as a fry cook, a dancer and performer, a cast member of the opera Porgy and Bess, coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and a journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the days of decolonization. She was an actor, writer, director, and producer of plays, movies, and public television programs.

Starting in 1982, she taught at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she held the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies. From that point on, she considered herself "a teacher who writes". Angelou taught a variety of subjects that reflected her interests, including philosophy, ethics, theology, science, theater, and writing.

She was active in the Civil Rights Movement and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

During the 1990s, she made approximately eighty appearances a year as a lecturer, something she continued into her eighties. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at President Bill Clinton's inauguration. She was the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961. The recording of the poem won a Grammy Award. In June 1995, she delivered what Richard Long called her "second 'public' poem", entitled "A Brave and Startling Truth", which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.

In late 2010, Angelou donated her personal papers to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. They consisted of more than 340 boxes of documents. In 2011, Angelou served as a consultant for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Maya Angelou 1928-2014 (14322397491)
Maya Angelou 1928-2014, San Francisco

Angelou died of natural causes on the morning of May 28, 2014, in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was 86 years old.

Personal life

Angelou married Tosh Angelos in 1951. Her second husband was Paul du Feu, a Welsh carpenter and ex-husband of writer Germaine Greer. The couple got married in 1974.

Angelou had one son, Guy, one grandson, and two great-grandchildren. Angelou's mother Vivian Baxter died in 1991 and her brother Bailey Johnson Jr., died in 2000 after a series of strokes; both were important figures in her life and her books.


Angelou wrote a total of seven autobiographies.

Angelou's long and extensive career also included poetry, plays, screenplays for television and film, directing, acting, and public speaking. She was a prolific writer of poetry; her volume Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie (1971) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Angelou's successful acting career included roles in numerous plays, films, and television programs, including her appearance in the television mini-series Roots in 1977. Her screenplay, Georgia, Georgia (1972), was the first original script by a Black woman to be produced, and she was the first African American woman to direct a major motion picture, Down in the Delta, in 1998.

Chronology of autobiographies

  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969): Up to 1944 (age 17)
  • Gather Together in My Name (1974): 1944–48
  • Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas (1976): 1949–55
  • The Heart of a Woman (1981): 1957–62
  • All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986): 1962–65
  • A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002): 1965–68
  • Mom & Me & Mom (2013): overview

Awards and honors

Angelou Obama
President Barack Obama presenting Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom 2011

Angelou was honored by universities, literary organizations, government agencies, and special interest groups. Her honors included a Tony Award nomination for her role in the 1973 play Look Away, and three Grammys for her spoken-word albums. She served on two presidential committees and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. Angelou was awarded over thirty honorary degrees.

Maya Angelou quotes

  • “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.”
  • “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
  • Courage is the most important of all the virtues because, without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.”
  • “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
  • “The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise.”

Interesting facts about Maya Angelou

  • "Maya" was a nickname given to Marguerite Ann by her brother.
  • After Angelou's rough childhood, she graduated from high school and gave birth to her son Guy a few weeks later.
  • Angelou became a calypso singer and dancer near San Francisco.
  • Angelou's literary talent was noticed by James O. Killens, the spiritual father of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. He encouraged her to join the Harlem Writers Guild.
  • Maya moved to Ghana in 1962 and worked as an administrator at the University of Ghana.
  • She accompanied Malcolm X back to the United States to help him build his Organization of Afro-American Unity.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed on her 40th birthday. In mourning, she refused to celebrate her birthday for years after his death, choosing instead to send flowers to Dr. King's widow.
  • Although she never attended college, Maya learned and experienced much in her adult life. She preferred to be referred to as "Dr."
  • Angelou wrote her works in a hotel room. She authored autobiographies, cookbooks, and even greeting cards.
  • She added the word "joy" when she signed her books.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Maya Angelou para niños

kids search engine
Maya Angelou Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.