Maya Angelou: The Great Poet and Novelist

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  • Topic: Porgy and Bess, Maya Angelou, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
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  • Published : April 2, 2007
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Name originally Marguerite (some sources say Marguerita) Johnson; surname is pronounced "An-ge-lo"; born April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, United States; daughter of Bailey (a doorkeeper and naval dietician) and Vivian (a nurse and realtor; maiden name, Baxter) Johnson; married Tosh Angelou (divorced c. 1952); married Paul Du Feu, December, 1973 (divorced); children: Guy Johnson.

By the time she was in her early twenties, Maya Angelou had been a Creole cook, a streetcar conductor, a cocktail waitress, a dancer, a madam, and an unwed mother. The following decades saw her emerge as a successful singer, actress, and playwright, an editor for an English-language magazine in Egypt, a lecturer and civil rights activist, and a popular author of five collections of poetry and five autobiographies. In 1993 Angelou gave a moving reading of her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at Bill Clinton's presidential inauguration, an occasion that gave her wide recognition.

Angelou is hailed as one of the great voices of contemporary black literature and as a remarkable Renaissance woman. She began producing books after some notable friends, including author James Baldwin, heard Angelou's stories of her childhood spent shuttling between rural, segregated Stamps, Arkansas, where her devout grandmother ran a general store, and St. Louis, Missouri, where her worldly, glamorous mother lived. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a chronicle of her life up to age sixteen (and ending with the birth of her son, Guy) was published in 1970 with great critical and commercial success. Although many of the stories in the book are grim, as in the author's revelation that she was raped at age eight by her mother's boyfriend, the volume also recounts the self-awakening of the young Angelou. "Her genius as a writer is her ability to recapture the texture of the way of life in the texture of its idioms, its idiosyncratic vocabulary and especially in its process of image-making," reports Sidonie...
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