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Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou
Ink and watercolor on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper
The latest addition to the ‘She Changed the World’ collection!

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) is regarded as one of the most influential writers of the past century. Born in St Louis, MO as Marguerite Johnson, after her parents split up she and her brother were sent to live with their father’s mother in segregated Stamps, Arkansas. When she was seven, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She told her brother, who told their uncles. The uncles killed the man, and because of this Maya was so terrified by the power of her own words that she stopped talking. For five years.

In her teenage years she moved to San Francisco for a scholarship to study dance. In 1952 she briefly married Greek sailor Anastasios Angelopulos. She took her childhood nickname Maya with a shortened version of her married name to become known as Maya Angelou. Her performance career really began to take off and she appeared in numerous traveling and off-Broadway productions. In the 1960’s, she began to focus on writing and lived abroad in Egypt and Ghana. In 1969 she published her first memoir, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, which made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller penned by an African-American woman. The work itself quickly made her an international star.

She continued to write memoirs and collections of poetry, in addition to starring in additional plays and in the television miniseries ‘Roots’. In 1993 she was asked by Bill Clinton to read at his inauguration, for which she specially penned “On the Pulse of Morning”, the first time a poet read at an inauguration since 1961. The audio recording of the poem won her a Grammy Award. In 1995 she became the first writer to stay on The New York Times’ paperback nonfiction bestsellers’ list for two straight years.

She was also a noted civil rights activist and was personal friends with Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X. In recognition of King’s assassination, she stopped celebrating her own birthday and instead sent flowers to Coretta Scott King until Coretta’s passing.

After Maya passed away President Barack Obama, whose sister was named after her, said, “A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking – but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves.”