I would like to present the 20th Century Genius Award to Dr. Maya Angelou. She is a remarkable Renaissance woman who is hailed as one of the great voices of contemporary literature. As a poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director, she continues to travel the world, spreading her legendary wisdom. Within the rhythm of her poetry and elegance of her prose lies Angelou's unique power to help readers of every orientation span the lines of race and Angelou captivates audiences through the vigor and sheer beauty of her words and lyrics. (Dr. Maya Angelou, The Official Website, © 2003)
A brief synopsis of the life and time of Dr Maya Angelou; she was born Marguerite Johnson, April 4, 1928, in St Louis, Missouri. Her parents divorced and Maya and her older brother Bailey were sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. After five years of living apart from their mother, the children returned home to St. Louis. This move took a horrific turn for the worse when Angelou, 8, was raped by her mother's boyfriend. This devastating act upon such a young girl caused her to become selctively mute for almost four years. She was sent back to Stamps to live with her Grandmother because no one could understand the state of mind that she was in. With the constant help of a school teacher named Mrs. Flowers, Angelou began to evolve into the young girl who had possessed the pride and confidence she once had.
In 1940, Angelou and her brother were sent to live with their mother again who by this time had moved to San Francisco. Life with her mother was in constant disorder; it soon became too much for her so her father came and took her to live with him and his girlfriend in their rundown trailer. Finding that life with him was no better, she ended up living in a graveyard of wrecked cars that housed homeless children. It took her a month to get back home to her mother. Angelou's dysfunctional childhood spent moving back and forth between her mother and grandmother caused her to struggle with maturity. She became determined to prove she was a woman and began to rush toward maturity. Angelou soon found herself pregnant at the age of sixteen. Angelou gave birth to a baby boy named Guy. This early life is the focus of Angelou's first autobiographical work, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (1970). Subsequent volumes of autobiography include “Gather Together in My Name” (1974), “Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas” (1976), “The Heart of a Woman” (1981), and “All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes” (1986).
During Angelou’s stay in San Francisco she worked intermittently as a cocktail waitress, a prostitute and madam, a cook, and a dancer. It was as a dancer that she assumed her professional name. Moving to New York City in the late 1950s, Angelou found encouragement for her literary talents at the Harlem Writers' Guild. About the same time, Angelou landed a featured role in a State Department-sponsored production of George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess; with this troupe she toured 22 countries in Europe and Africa. She also studied dance with Martha Graham and Pearl Primus. In 1961 she performed in Jean Genet's “The Blacks”. That same year, she was persuaded by a South African dissident to whom she was briefly married to move to Cairo, Egypt, where she worked for the Arab Observer. She later moved to Ghana and worked on The African Review. Angelou returned to California in 1966 and wrote Black, Blues, Black (aired 1968), a 10-part television series about the role of African culture in American life. When her screenplay Georgia, Georgia was produced in 1972, Angelou became the first African-American woman to have a feature film adapted from one of her own stories. She also acted in such movies as Poetic Justice (1993) and How to Make an American Quilt (1995) and appeared in several television productions. In 1998 she made her directorial...
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