Today, the world received with shock news of the untimely death of Maya Angelou. Many people identify with her because she was able to externalize and vocalize her trauma through her writing and poetry. Upon hearing of her passing, online publications and social media sites were awash with her numerous inspirational thoughts and musings. All one needed to identify with her was the instinctive need for some form of expression as a release in the face of adversity; all one needed was to be human.
Below are twenty facts about her life that paint a useful backdrop to her writings and provide context for the wisdom she so generously shared with the world.
1. Her birth name is Marguerite Annie Johnson. “Maya” is a nickname her older brother, Bailey Jr. gave to her when they were both sent to live with their paternal grandmother, Anne Henderson.
2. In her pre-teen years, her grandmother would whip Angelou for using the term ‘by the way’ in conversation, a blasphemy to her grandmother as ‘Jesus was the only way’.
3. When she was 7, Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. The rapist was found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison. The rapist served only one day of that sentence. However, the day after his release, the rapist was found dead after being kicked to death. Angelou contended that her voice had killed him.
4. At age 17, Angelou became pregnant and gave birth just weeks after successfully graduating.
5. Angelou turned to prostitution at age 18 for a short period to support her family.
6. Angelou married her first husband, Anastosios Angelopoulos, in 1949. Drawing from her husband’s name, she adopted the surname ‘Angelou’ as a stage name. Angelou retained his name despite the termination of the marriage in 1952.
7. Following the end of her first, Angelou fell in love with Vusumzi Make, a South African civil rights activist.
8. The assassination of Malcom X on her birthday in 1968 provided the catalyst for her first book, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’.
9. Angelou married Paul du Feu in 1971 and the marriage ended in 1980.
10. Her screenplay ‘Georgia Georgia’ (which she also scored) was the first filmed script written by a Black woman and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
11. In 1973 she received Tony nomination for her Broadway acting debut in ‘Look Away’ and her work in 1977’s landmark TV series ‘Roots’ led to an Emmy nomination.
12. On 20th January 1993 she wrote and delivered the inaugural poem for President Clinton; ‘On The Pulse Of The Morning’. This poem won a Grammy and has since been translated into over 40 languages.
13. At the time of her death, she held over 30 honorary doctorates.
In closing, a thought by Maya Angelou herself:
“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
~Rest in Peace, Marguerite Annie Johnson~