Sunday, October 20, 2019

Maya Angelou - Poet, Author, Actress, Playwright

Maya Angelou - Poet, Author, Actress, Playwright Maya Angelou was an African-American author, playwright, poet, dancer, actress, and singer.  Her illustrious 50-year career included publishing 36 books,  including volumes of poetry and three books of essays. Angelou is credited for producing  and acting in several plays, musicals,  movies, and TV shows.  Ã‚  She is best known, however,  for her first autobiography,  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969). The book depicts the  tragedies of Angelous traumatic childhood,  detailing a brutal rape at 7 1/2,  and an early  adulthood encumbered by teenage pregnancy. Dates: April 4, 1928 to May 28, 2014 Also Known As:   Marguerite Anne Johnson (born as), Ritie, Rita A Long Way From Home Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Anne Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri,  to Bailey Johnson Sr., a porter and navy dietitian,  and Vivian Bibbie Baxter, a nurse. Angelou’s only sibling, one-year-older brother Bailey Jr. was unable as a child to pronounce Angelou’s first name, Marguerite, and thus nicknamed his sister Maya, derived from My Sister. The name-change proved useful later in Mayas  life. After her parents separated in 1931, Bailey Sr.  sent three-year-old Maya and Bailey Jr. to live with his mother, Annie Henderson, in segregated Stamps, Arkansas. Momma, as Maya and Bailey called her, was the only black female storeowner in rural Stamps and was highly respected. Despite the fact that severe poverty abounded, Momma prospered during the Great Depression and World War II by supplying basic staples. In addition to running the store, Momma took care of her paralyzed son, whom the children called â€Å"Uncle Willie.† Although smart, Maya was extremely insecure as a child, viewing herself as awkward, unwanted, and ugly because she was black. At times, Maya sought to hide her legs, greased them with Vaseline, and dusted them with red clay   deeming any color  was  better than black. Bailey, on the other hand, was charming, free-spirited, and extremely protective of his sister. Life in Stamps, Arkansas Momma put her grandchildren to work in the store, and Maya watched the exhausted cotton-pickers as they trudged to and from work. Momma was the chief stabilizer and moral guide in the childrens lives, giving them valuable advice in picking their battles with white people. Momma warned that the slightest impertinence could result in lynching. The daily indignities manifested through entrenched racism made life in Stamps  miserable for the displaced children. Their shared experience of loneliness and longing for their parents led to a strong dependence on each other. The childrens passion for reading provided a  refuge  from their harsh reality. Maya spent every Saturday in  Stamps library, eventually reading every book on its shelves. After four  years in Stamps, Maya and Bailey were surprised when their handsome father appeared driving a fancy car to take them back to St. Louis to live with their mother.   Maya watched curiously as  Bailey Sr.  interacted with  his mother  and brother, Uncle Willie making them feel inferior  with his boasting. Maya did not like it, especially when Bailey Jr. the splitting image of his father acted as if this man had never abandoned them. Meet Me in St. Louis Vivian was devastatingly beautiful and the children instantly fell in love with her, especially Bailey Jr.  Mother Dear, as the children called her,  was a force of nature  and  lived life to the fullest, expecting everyone else to do the same.  Although Vivian had a nursing degree, she made  a nice  living playing poker in gambling parlors. Landing in St. Louis during Prohibition, Maya and Bailey were introduced to underworld crime figures by their maternal grandmother (â€Å"Grandma Baxter†), who entertained them. She also had clout with the citys police. Vivians father and four brothers had city jobs,  rare for black men, and had a reputation for being mean. But they treated the children well and Maya was awed by them, finally feeling a sense of familial belonging. Maya and Bailey stayed with Vivian and her  older boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. Vivian was strong,  vibrant, and independent like Momma, treating her children well. However,  she was dispassionate and Maya could not establish a close relationship. Innocence Lost Maya craved her mothers affection so much that she began confiding in Vivians insecure  boyfriend. Mayas 7 1/2-year-old innocence was shattered when Freeman molested her on two occasions, then raped her- threatening to kill Bailey if she told. Although he was found guilty at a hearing and sentenced to one year in jail, Freeman was temporarily released. Three weeks later, Maya overheard police telling Grandma Baxter that Freeman had been found beaten to death, presumably by her uncles. The family never mentioned the incident. Thinking she was  responsible for Freemans death by testifying, confused Maya resolved to protect others by not speaking. She became mute for five years, refusing to speak to anyone except her brother. After a while, Vivian was unable to deal with Mayas emotional state. She sent the children back to live with Momma in Stamps, much to Baileys discontent. The emotional consequences caused by the rape followed Maya throughout her lifetime. Back  to Stamps and a Mentor Momma wasted no time getting Maya help by introducing her to Bertha Flowers, a beautiful,  refined, and educated black woman.  The great teacher exposed Maya to classic authors, such as Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and James Weldon Johnson, as well as black female authors. Flowers had Maya memorize certain works by the authors to recite aloud- showing her that words have the power to create, not destroy.   Through Mrs. Flowers, Maya realized the power, eloquence, and beauty of the spoken word. The ritual  awakened Mayas passion for poetry,  built confidence, and slowly goaded  her out of silence. Once reading books as a refuge from reality,  she now read books to understand it. To Maya, Bertha Flowers was the ultimate role model- someone she could aspire to become. Maya was a great student and graduated with honors in 1940 from Lafayette County Training School. An eighth-grade graduation was a big  occasion in Stamps, but the white speaker  insinuated that  the black graduates could only succeed in sports or servitude, not academics. Maya  was inspired, however, when the class valedictorian led the graduates in Lift Evry Voice and Sing,  listening for the first time to the songs words. Its Better in  California Stamps, Arkansas was a town entrenched in severe racism. For instance, one day, when Maya had a severe toothache, Momma took her to the only  dentist in town, who was white,  and  to whom she had loaned money during the Great Depression. But the dentist refused to treat Maya,  proclaiming that he would rather stick his hand in a dogs mouth than in black Mayas. Momma took Maya outside and stamped back into the  mans office. Momma returned with $10 she said the dentist owed her in interest on his loan and took Maya 25 miles to see a black dentist. After Bailey came home terribly shaken one day,  having been forced by a white man to help load a black mans  dead, rotting body onto a wagon, Momma  prepared to get her grandchildren  away from further dangers. Never having traveled more than 50 miles from her birthplace, Momma left Willie and her store to take Maya and Bailey to their mother in Oakland, California. Momma stayed six months to get the children settled before returning to Stamps. Genuinely glad to have her children back, Vivian  threw  Maya and Bailey a welcoming  party at midnight.  The children discovered their mother was popular and fun-loving, with many male suitors. But Vivian  chose to marry  Daddy Clidell, a  successful businessman who moved the family to San Francisco. Upon Mayas entrance into Mission High School, she  was  advanced a grade and later transferred to a school where she  was one of only three blacks. Maya liked one teacher, Miss Kirwin, who treated everyone  equally. At 14, Maya received a full college scholarship to the California Labor School  to study drama and  dance. Growing Pains Daddy Clidell was the owner of several apartment buildings and pool halls, and Maya was enthralled  by his quiet dignity. He was the only true father figure she ever knew, making Maya feel like his cherished daughter. But when  Bailey Sr.  invited her to stay with him and his much younger girlfriend Dolores for the summer, Maya accepted. When she arrived, Maya was shocked to discover they lived in a low-class trailer  home. From the outset, the two women didnt get along. When Bailey Sr. took Maya to Mexico on a shopping trip, it ended disastrously with 15-year-old Maya  driving her inebriated father back to the Mexican border. Upon their return, jealous Dolores confronted Maya, blaming her for coming between them. Maya slapped Dolores for calling  Vivian a whore; Dolores then stabbed Maya in the hand and stomach with scissors. Maya ran from the house bleeding. Knowing she couldnt hide her wounds from Vivian, Maya did not return to San Francisco.  She was also afraid that Vivian and her family would cause trouble for Bailey Sr., remembering what happened to Mr. Freeman. Bailey Sr. took Maya to get her wounds wrapped at a friends house. Determined never to  be victimized again, Maya fled the home of her fathers friend and spent the night in a  junkyard. The next morning, she  found  there were several runaways  living there.  During  her month-long stay with the runaways, Maya learned to not only dance and cuss  but to also appreciate diversity,  which influenced the rest of her life.  At summers end, Maya decided to return to her mother, but the experience left  her feeling  empowered. Movin On Up Maya had matured from a timid girl into a  strong young woman. Her brother Bailey, on the other hand, was changing. He had become obsessed  with winning his mothers affection, even beginning to  emulate the lifestyles of the men  Vivian once kept company with. When Bailey brought a white prostitute home, Vivian kicked him out. Hurt and disillusioned, Bailey eventually left town  to take a job with the railroad. When school started in the fall, Maya  convinced Vivian  to let her  take a semester off to work. Missing Bailey terribly,  she  sought a distraction and  applied for a job as a streetcar conductor,  despite racist hiring policies.  Maya persisted for weeks, eventually becoming  San Franciscos first black streetcar operator. Upon returning to school, Maya began to mentally exaggerate her masculine features and became worried that she might be a lesbian.   Maya decided to get a boyfriend to convince herself otherwise. But all of  Mayas male friends  wanted slim, light-skinned, straight-haired girls, and she possessed none of these qualities.  Maya then  propositioned a handsome neighbor boy, but the unsatisfying encounter didnt allay her anxieties. Three weeks later, however, Maya discovered she was pregnant. After calling Bailey, Maya decided to keep her pregnancy a secret. Afraid that Vivian would make her quit school, Maya threw herself into her studies, and after graduating from the Mission High School in 1945  Ã¢â‚¬â€¹confessed her eighth-month pregnancy. Claude Bailey Johnson, who later changed his name to Guy,  was born shortly after 17-year-old Mayas graduation. A New Name, New Life Maya adored her son and, for the very first time, felt needed.  Her life became more colorful as  she worked to  provide for  him by singing and  dancing in nightclubs, cooking, being a cocktail waitress,  a prostitute, and  a brothel madam. In 1949, Maya married  Anastasios Angelopulos, a Greek-American sailor. But the interracial marriage in 1950s America was doomed from the start, ending in 1952. In 1951, Maya studied modern dance under greats  Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham, even  teaming with Ailey to perform at local  functions  as Al and Rita. Working as a professional calypso dancer  at the Purple Onion in San Francisco, Maya was still called Marguerite Johnson. But that soon changed when, at the insistence of her managers, Maya combined her former husbands surname and Baileys nickname of Maya,  to create  the distinctive name,  Maya Angelou. When Angelou’s beloved Momma passed away, Angelou  was sent into a tailspin. Distraught,  but vowing to live fully,  Angelou turned down a contract for a Broadway play, left her son with Vivian, and  embarked on a 22-nation  tour with the opera Porgy and Bess (1954-1955). But Angelou continued to hone her writing skills while traveling, as she found  solace in creating poetry. In 1957, Angelou  recorded her first album, Calypso Heat Wave. Angelou had been dancing, singing, and acting  throughout San Francisco, but then moved to New York and joined the Harlem Writers Guild in the late 1950s. While there, she befriended literary great James Baldwin,  who encouraged  Angelou to  focus directly on a writing career. Triumph and Tragedy In 1960, after hearing civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak,  Angelou wrote along  with Godfrey Cambridge,  Cabaret for Freedom,  to benefit Kings Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Angelou was a great asset as a fundraiser and organizer;   she was then appointed SCLCs Northern Coordinator by Dr. King. Also in 1960,  Angelou took a common-law husband, Vusumzi Make, a South African anti-apartheid leader from Johannesburg.  Maya,  her 15-year-old son Guy, and new husband moved to Cairo, Egypt, where Angelou became an editor for The Arab Observer. Angelou continued taking teaching and writing jobs as she and  Guy adjusted. But as her relationship  with Make came to an end in 1963,  Angelou left Egypt with her son for Ghana. There, she became an administrator at the University of Ghanas School of Music and Drama, an editor for The African Review, and a feature writer for  The Ghanaian Times. As a result of her travels,  Angelou was  fluent in French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Serbo-Croatian, and Fanti (a West African language). While living in Africa,  Angelou  established a great friendship with Malcolm X. Upon returning to the States in 1964 to help him build the newly  formed Organization of African American Unity, Malcolm X was assassinated soon thereafter. Devastated,  Angelou went to live with her brother in Hawaii but returned to Los Angeles during the summer of the 1965 race riots.  Angelou wrote and acted in plays until  she returned to New York in 1967. Hard Trials, Great Achievement In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked Angelou to organize a march, but the plans were interrupted when King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 –  on Angelous 40th birthday. Reeling and vowing never to celebrate the date again, Angelou was encouraged by James Baldwin to overcome her grief by writing.   Doing what she did best,  Angelou wrote, produced, and narrated Blacks, Blues, Black!,  a ten-part documentary series about the link between the blues music genre and black heritage.  Also in 1968,  attending a dinner party with Baldwin, Angelou was challenged to write an autobiography by Random House editor Robert Loomis.  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelous first autobiography,  which was published in 1969, became an immediate bestseller and brought Angelou worldwide acclaim. In 1973, Angelou wed the Welsh writer and cartoonist Paul du Feu. Though Angelou never spoke openly about her marriages, it was  deemed by  those closest  to be her longest and happiest union. However, it ended in amicable divorce in 1980. Awards and Honors Angelou was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1977 for her role as Kunta Kintes grandmother in Alex Haleys television miniseries, Roots. In 1982, Angelou began teaching at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina,  where she held the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies. Past presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton requested Angelou to serve on various boards. In 1993, Angelou was asked to write and recite a poem (On the Pulse of the Morning) for Clintons inauguration, winning a Grammy award and  being the second individual after Robert Frost (1961) so honored. Angelous numerous awards include  the Presidential Medal of Arts  (2000),  the Lincoln Medal (2008), the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama (2011), the  Literarian Award from the National Book Foundation (2013), and the Mailer Prize for Lifetime Achievement (2013). Though her educational pursuits were limited to high school, Angelou received 50 honorary doctorates. A Phenomenal Woman Maya Angelou  was highly  respected by millions as  an  astounding  author,  poet,  actor, lecturer, and activist.  Starting  in the  1990s and continuing to shortly before her death,  Angelou made  at least 80 appearances annually on the lecture circuit.   Her comprehensive body of published works include  36 books, seven of which are autobiographies, numerous collections of poetry, a book of essays, four plays, a screenplay- oh,  and a cookbook. Angelou once had three  books- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Heart of a Woman, and Even the Stars Looked Lonesome- on New York Times bestseller list for six consecutive weeks, simultaneously. Whether through a book, a play, poem, or lecture, Angelou inspired millions,  especially women, to  use the negative experiences they survived  as a  catapult to impossible achievements. On the morning of May 28, 2014, frail and suffering from a heart-related  extended  illness, 86-year-old Maya Angelou was  found unconscious  by her caretaker.  Accustomed to  doing things her way, Angelou had instructed her staff to not resuscitate her in such a condition.   The memorial ceremony in  Maya Angelous honor, hosted by Wake Forest University, included many luminaries. Media mogul Oprah Winfrey, Angelous long-time friend and protege,  planned and  directed the heartfelt tribute. The town of Stamps renamed its only park  in Angelous honor in June 2014.

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