Maya Angelou

Born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928, Maya Angelou was an American author, poet, dancer, actress, and singer. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several other books.

I discovered Maya Angelou’s work in a charity shop in Cornwall, I bought the book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and it was a true gift for me. Throughout my life I have read most of her books and poetry and seen her on TV, and in films. It is her universal voice, that connects with so many of her readers. She details the struggles we all encounter, growing up, sexuality, self esteem, being a strong woman, role models, how to survive mistakes that break your heart, living a creative life, motherhood, and finding love.

Her poem Still I Rise is a feminist song:

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.

To show one’s power and beauty, despite hatred and negativity from others, and to maintain a smile showing grace, when others expect you to fall and be defeated. Fabulous…!!

Time and time again, I reread Maya Angelou’s work and feel inspired and renewed. She was a woman born into poverty and the racist American deep south, Arkansas. Her mother gave her strength and passion to fulfil all of her dreams, and develop herself as a woman, artist and mother. Maya survived severe sexual and emotional abuse, helped through recovery with the support of her beloved brother Bailey. Her battles and victories are discribed in her seven volume autobiography.

Living as a black family in America enduring the constant threat of abuse and death, how did she maintain her spirit and her sanity? She grew up to become an artist and writer, dancer, actress. To work alongside Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Dr Martin Luther King and James Bawdwin. James said to Maya ‘survival is in our songs, our food, our laughter’, giving her another bite of courage to start over (adding another string to her multi talented bow) as a singer in Hawaii.

Ms Angelou’s work for me is deeply moving and spiritual, lessons to keep on moving forward however dusted and bruised one may feel, hold your head high and smile. To try, try try again and to maintain a sense of humour.

In Swingin and Singin and Getting Merry Like Christmas Ms Angelou details her ‘mistakes’, her learnings, the trials and incidents of her life including being duped by a pimp to work as a prostitute and how she was able to escape this part of her life. She details how she was in a relationship with a heroin addict and he exposed her to that world which again was a saving grace just in time she was able to turn another corner.

Sadly Ms Angelou died recently after living such a glorious life, her heart sang with joy of survival and courage and to live your dreams.
Maya Angelou enjoyed a chameleon’s career full of daring and was a multi talented entertainer. Thank you Ms Angelou x

Written for Sheroes of History by Dorina Shannon-Gurche. Dorina is an artist currently working on her 2016 exhibition ‘Goddess’.

Find out more…

The official Maya Angelou website is your first port of call for more information about Maya’s life & works.

You can read many of Maya Angelou’s poems online. Here is a good selection.

The best way to get to know about Maya Angelou’s life is to read about it in her own words. Her autobiographical books are all available to buy:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Gather Together in My Name

Swingin’ and Singin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas

The Heart of A Woman

All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes

A Song Flung Up to Heaven

Watch Maya performing some of her own work in this great video:


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