by ALEX RAGHUNANDAN Staff Writer
Poet, activist, and author Maya Angelou died on May 28 at the age of 86 in her home in Salem-Winston, North Carolina.
Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. She lived with her brother and grandmother in Arkansas as child where she was racially discriminated against. Her grandmother taught her many of her core beliefs, which she held on to as she became an adult.
When Angelou turned seven, she moved back in with her mother and was sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend. Eventually, her assaulter was found dead, leading to Angelou’s silence for five years.
“Personally, I could not even imagine growing up like Angelou. Like not speaking for five years! I couldn’t even imagine not speaking for one day, not to mention all the abuse she faced as a child,” said freshman Caitlyn Krempa.
At 13, Angelou began speaking again and moved to San Francisco with her mom where she studied dance and drama. Three years later, she gave birth to her son, graduated from high school, and moved out and lived as a single mother.
Her experiences from her childhood and adolescence inspired the majority of her work.
“Even though Maya Angelou made a lot of mistakes in the past, I really admire her for using her past to make her future even brighter,” said freshman Justine Tarsillo.
When Angelou got married for the first time to Greek sailor Anostatsios Angelopulos, she began singing at nightclubs under the stage name Maya Angelou.
In the 1950’s, Angelou toured with the opera “Porgy and Bess”, studied modern dance, and recorded her first record “Calypso Lady”.
Her experiences in the performing arts made her want to develop her writing skills, so she moved to New York City and joined the Harlem Writer’s Guild. The civil rights movement was a major focus of her writing pieces.
After a quick first marriage, Angelou married South African activist Vusumzi Make and moved to Cairo, Egypt where she was an editor of an English newspaper.
After a couple years, the couple moved to Ghana. There, Angelou was an instructor of drama, and wrote for “The African Times” and “The Ghanaian Times”. In Ghana, she met Malcolm X and began to discuss civil rights ideas with him.
Angelou decided to moved back to the United States in 1964 to help Malcolm X build the Organization of African American Unity, but he was assassinated shortly after she arrived.
His assassination influenced her to become more active in the civil rights movement, and she began working hand-in-hand with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King’s assassination on her birthday in 1968 made her very depressed.
James Baldwin, a novelist, helped motivate her to fulfill her dream to become a novelist. She compiled her experiences from her childhood to the birth of her first child and wrote her first and most well-known novel “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” in 1970.
This novel instantly made her a national figure.
Over the coming years, she became a highly acclaimed teacher. From 1981 to her death, Angelou had been a professor at Wake Forest University.
She also worked with many presidents of the United States.
Angelou worked on the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission under President Gerald Ford, and on the Presidential Commission for the International Woman of the Year under President Jimmy Carter.
In 1993, Angelou read her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, which was broadcasted internationally.
In 2008, Angelou received the Ford’s Theatre Lincoln Medal, and in 2011 President Obama awarded Angelou the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Since 1970, Angelou has written more than 30 works and has received over 30 honorary doctoral degrees from numerous universities nationwide.
A private memorial service for Dr. Angelou was held at Wake Forest University in the campus chapel. Events are being planned across the country to celebrate her life.
How do you think her childhood influenced her interests as an adult? Do you think that it made a major impact to her contributions to society?