MAYA ANGELOU (1928-Present)

by Jen Houston

Why We Should Care: Poet, activist, actress, producer, author, teacher and playwright, Maya Angelou’s six autobiographies barely scratch the surface on the rich life she’s lived. Among her countless achievements, she participated in the creation of Malcolm X’s Organization of African American Unity, won 3 Grammy Awards for her spoken word albums, recited at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration, and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Coincidentally, King was later assassinated on Angelou’s birthday, leading her to stop celebrating for many years. Instead, Maya sent flowers to his wife, Coretta Scott King, every year until her death in 2006. In September 2008, Maya gave her support for Barack at the Women For Obama rally, though she had publicly supported Hilary Clinton during the primaries.

Hottest Hook-Up: In the early 60s Angelou had a short marriage to Vusumzi Make, a South African activist/lawyer (and colleague of Nelson Mandela.) She worked as an associate editor for The Arab Observer, living with Make in Cairo, until their divorce in 1963.

Hard-Knock Life: She revealed in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings that she had been raped by her mother’s boyfriend at age 8. When she told, the man was jailed for a day, then released. He was found kicked to death four days later. After hearing of his death, Maya stayed almost completely speechless for five years, believing that her voice had killed him.

In Her Own Words: “I speak to the black experience, but I am always talking about the human condition — about what we can endure, dream, fail at, and still survive.” 

Click here to watch a video of Maya at the Women For Obama rally:

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