Maya ANGELOU – Portrait


Maya Angelou was born as Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis Missouri and died in 2014. She was the second child of Bailey Johnson, navy dietitian and a doorman and Vivian Baxter Johnson, a nurse and car dealer. 

Dr Maya Angelou was a civil rights activist, a memoirist, a poet, a writer, an actress and she taught at university. She wrote seven autobiographies, including the famous “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (1969). Her autobiographies explore her childhood, economic, racial and sexual oppression and also her early adult experiences.  

Photo G.Marshall Wilson

In her early life, Maya Angelou spent most of her time with her older brother in Arkansas in the house of her paternal grandmother after her parent’s break up. When she was about seven years old, she had been raped by her mother’s boyfriend. As a revenge for the sexual assault, Angelou’s uncles killed the boyfriend. As an African American, Maya Angelou experienced racial discrimination. Her traumatic experiences left her mute for a few years. She had a difficult childhood.

In 1940, Maya Angelou moved to San Francisco, where her mother lived.  She explored different jobs and worked intermittently as a dancer, a cook, a Madame, as a sex worker and as a cocktail waitress.

In 1959, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. asked Maya Angelou to become the northern coordinator for the southern Christian Leadership Conference. During the years 1961-1962, she became  an associate editor of The Arab Observer in Cairo, Egypt.

She went back to the United States in 1974 and at that time she was appointed twice, the first time by Gerald Ford (38th President of the United States) for the Bicentennial Commission and later by Jimmy Carter (39th President Of The United States), to the Commission for International Woman of the Year.

Photographer: Chester Higgins, Jr.

During her whole life, she was a political figure and an activist. She even delivered a poem she wrote (“On the Pulse of the Morning”) at the inauguration for President Bill Clinton. Maya Angelou received the National Medal of Arts.

She was an independent woman. She was a producer, director and also the first black female director in Hollywood. She was nominated for an award twice, for her performance in Look Away (1973) and Roots (1977).

Maya Angelou died in 2014 at the age of 86, she had been honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010 by President Barack Obama.

Still I Rise

By Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise            

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise” from And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems.  Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou.  Used by permission of Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Source: The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (1994)

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