10 Fascinating Facts About Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou - the complete poetry

 Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014) was an American author, actress, screenwriter, dancer, poet, and civil rights activist. these fascinating facts about Maya Angelou are but a small part of her storied life and career.

Best known for her 1969 memoir, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, this trailblazing woman led a vibrant life filled with accomplishments.

Angelou published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry. Her autobiography series chronicled her childhood, youth, and early adult experiences.

She’s also credited with writing a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning more than 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than thirty honorary doctorate degrees.

 

Her childhood years were spent mute

Angelou has publicly spoken about the trauma that resulted in her going mute for five years, but there is so much to be discussed about these crucial years. After being sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend at the age of seven, the abuser was only jailed for one day.

After telling her family about the horrific incident, a day after his release he was murdered. Angelou believed this to be her fault for opening her mouth and wrote, “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 …” 

Angelou also credits her brother as one of the people to bring her out of this time of muteness. This episode in her life is recounted in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, a book that set records for time spent on nonfiction bestseller lists.

 

She had an inspiring grandmother

When Angelou was 3 years old, she and her older brother, Bailey Jr., were sent to Stamps, Arkansas to live with her paternal grandmother. Her grandmother, Annie Henderson (whom Angelou referred to as “momma”) was a child of a former enslaved person, and the only Black person in Stamps to own a general store in town.

Her grandmother is also with whom Angelou credits her ability to read; Annie Henderson would bring back books from the local all-white schools, and taught Angelou and her brother how to read.

 

She was the first Black female streetcar conductor

There doesn’t seem to be a hat she hasn’t worn. When Angelou was in high school, she sought out a job as a streetcar conductor. After initially being denied several times based on the color of her skin, her perseverance won in the end. She became the first Black streetcar conductor, female no less. “I loved the uniforms,” she said.

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Maya Angelou books

Maya Angelou books on Bookshop.org*
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She was a three-time Grammy winner

Angelou won three Grammys in her lifetime: the first one was for a poem she wrote and recited at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. She was the first Black poet to present at a presidential inauguration. Titled “On The Pulse of Morning,” it won the Best Spoken Word award. She continued on to win two more, in 1996 for Best Spoken Word Album, and again in 2003.

In this video clip, you can watch Maya recite the poem that won her the Grammy.

 

Her friend Martin Luther King, Jr. died on her birthday

Angelou had a multitude of prominent friendships over the course of her life, including Malcolm X and Oprah Winfrey. She had a close friendship with Martin Luther King Jr. When Angelou returned to the United States after having spent time living abroad, she was about to help organize a march for Martin Luther King Jr., but on her 40th birthday, April 4th, 1968, he was assassinated.  

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Maya Angelou at Clinton inauguration

Maya Angelou at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton
Photo courtesy of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library
and Wikimedia Commons
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Only the second poet to recite at a presidential inauguration

Angelou was the first poet since Robert Frost (who recited at JFK’s inauguration in 1963) to recite an original poem at a presidential inauguration. She recited her poem “On The Pulse Of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s, in January of 1993. The poem begins: “A Rock, A River, A Tree …” Read the poem in its entirety here.

 

She spoke six languages

Angelou’s travels took her far and wide. She spent time in Europe, where she also performed, and, being an attentive listener, picked up local languages. In addition to her original language of English, of course, she learned to speak Spanish, French, Hebrew, Italian, and Fante, a Ghanian dialect of Akan. 

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Maya angelou quote

You might also enjoy: Maya Angelou Quotes To Live By
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She received a letter from Tupac’s mother

Angelou agreed to be a part of John Singleton’s iconic 1993 film “Poetic Justice” featuring rapper Tupac Shakur and singer Janet Jackson. The rapper was in the middle of a raging spree, and though she had no idea who he was, Angelou promptly pulled him aside and had a heart-to-heart with the artist.

It’s been said that she moved him to tears with her empowering story about Black individuals in America, and of his importance to the culture. Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, later wrote a letter to Angelou expressing her deepest gratitude towards Angelou for giving advice to her son and teaching him such a valuable lesson. 

 

She partnered with Hallmark greeting cards

Despite the disapproval of her Random House editor, Angelou wrote words for a line of cards, bookends, and pillows for Hallmark. She said “If I’m America’s poet, or one of them, then I want to be in people’s hands … people who would never buy a book.” Though some feared this partnership would cheapen her message, it ended up being hugely successful and profitable. 

According to this article on Maya Angelou’s partnership with Hallmark, “The universal values and insight in Angelou’s poetry and prose made Hallmark an ideal match for her. Early interviews illustrate that Angelou talked with a Hallmark-like affect, a way of speaking that delivered life lessons with aplomb.”

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Great food all day long by Maya Angelou

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She wrote two cookbooks

If you couldn’t tell by now, Angelou loved to keep busy in numerous creative ways. She authored the cookbooks Great Food, All Day Long and Hallelujah! The Welcome Table. She believed that people wouldn’t overeat if they ate what they wanted, when they felt like it … such as “fried rice for breakfast,” she said. Introducing Great Food, All Day Long, she wrote: 

“At one time, I described myself as a cook, a driver, and a writer. I no longer drive, but I do still write and I do still cook. And having reached the delicious age of eighty-one, I realize that I have been feeding other people and eating for a long time. I have been cooking nearly all my life, so I have developed some philosophies.”

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34 Responses to “10 Fascinating Facts About Maya Angelou”

  1. She was an amazing poet and an amazing person. I love her poem “Phenomenal Woman.” It is so inspiring to me. A big thanks to the person who wrote these facts.

  2. l am doing research about her. Does anyone know the new fact about her if you bear me witness

  3. thank you i maya copy this for a school assignment.
    (maya copy this: see what I did there with that little act of top class banter)

  4. I am Lillian, a writer and a poet since childhood. Growing up in Uganda, I had less access to American writers and poets. Self education made me more aware of international writers and poets, however I have been more attached and drawn to Maya Angelou is life since the day I had a dream of her voice communicating to me, when I woke up I started searching about her life Legacy till now.

  5. Thank you! I’m doing a powerpoint on Maya Angelou and my fact file will be a lot more interesting now I have these amazing facts. Maya was a wonderful woman, an insipration to us all.

  6. Maya Angelo changed a lot of women and people’s lives and it would not be for her help and her books that also helped in changing people’s ways of thinking and the way that African Americans are living now.

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