Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, Maya Angelou was an award-winning poet whose works accurately captured the American experience. Though she never attended college, she received more than 50 honorary degrees and excelled in several forms of art and entertainment.
Here are 10 facts about the iconic poet:
1. Maya Angelou was the first black woman to ever become a cable car conductor. She briefly dropped out of school at the age of 26 to take up this profession. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, she spoke on why she decided to become a conductor, “I saw women on the street cars with their little changer belts. They had caps with bibs on them and form-fitting jackets. I loved their uniforms. I said that is the job I want.”
2. During her lifetime, Maya spoke 6 languages. She was fluent in French, Spanish, Hebrew, Italian, and Fante.
3. She had a profound love for cooking and wrote two cookbooks during her lifetime.
“I learned to cook by observing my mother and grandmother. I was a Depression baby, and we were told to eat everything on our plates because of the little children starving in China. No one mentioned the little children starving right here in the United States,” she said.
4. Although Maya got married more than once, she had only one child, a son named Guy Johnson. She gave birth to him when she was just 16 after a brief romance with a neighbourhood boy.
5. At a young age, Maya was sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend. The man was arrested and she was called upon to testify in court. In the end, he was sentenced to just one day in jail. After his release, he was murdered presumably by one of Maya’s family members. This incident affected her so badly that she didn’t speak for the next five years.
“I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone …” She wrote of her abuser. Maya found her voice again through her love for books and literature.
6. Asides from being a poet, Maya was also a filmmaker. Her first appearance in a movie was in 1957’s Calypso Heat Wave. By the end of her career, she had won three Grammys.
7. Martin Luther King, JR. died on her 40th birthday in 1968. As a result, she didn’t celebrate it for years after his death.
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8. She made history as the second poet to read a poem at a president’s inauguration. This was at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. The recital earned her a 1994 Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album.
9. Maya had her own line of hallmark greeting cards.
10. She directed her first film, Down in the Delta, in 1998.
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