Angelou, Maya

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Also known as Marguerite Johnson
African-American poet, actress, dancer, educator, and civil rights activist

Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in California. Her parents divorced when she was a young child and she and her brother were sent by their father to live with his mother in Arkansas. A few years later she returned to live with her mother in California, but when she was eight she was raped by her mother's boy-friend. Following this trauma, she was sent back to Arkansas and was mute for several years.

In her teenage years she returned to California, where she finished high school and began to be active in the civil rights movement. She had a succession of dead-end jobs (waitress, cook, streetcar conductor), and was briefly involved in drugs and prostitution, but then began to find herself in the world of the arts and journalism.

She speaks French, Spanish, Italian and Fanti, and her career spans three continents encompassing journalism, editing, music composition and conducting, singing, stage and screen acting, theater directing and producing, dancing, public service and education, as well as writing poetry and an acclaimed series of autobiographical novels: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Gather Together in My Name, Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas, The Heart of a Woman, and All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes.

She is probably the most multi-talented woman in contemporary America, and one of the most revered. In 1993 she was invited to read her poetry (available at: at US President Bill Clinton's inauguration: an honor only once before conferred - on Robert Frost by President Kennedy.


Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, 1993-97
Who's Who in America, 1996
Schomburg Center Guide to Black Literature, edited by Roger M. Valade III. (Detroit: Gale, 1996). [Includes portrait]. Also formerly available at:
Oxford Companion to African American Literature, edited by William L. Andrews, Frances Smith and Trudier Harris. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)
White, Martha, et al. "Maya Angelou." [Includes portrait]. Available at:
EducETH. "Angelou, Maya: *1928." [Includes portrait]. Available at:
Shapiro, Miles. Maya Angelou. (New York: Chelsea House, 1994) (Black Americans of Achievement)


20th Century
21st Century
Civil Rights, Advocacy
Education, Teaching, Libraries
Music and Dance
Theater, Broadcasting, Cinema
Pre-school Years
Parental Relationship Breakdown, Divorce
Temporary Care
Child in and out of Care
Birth Siblings Placed Together
Birth Sibling(s) Separated
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