Written by Mariem ELTagoury
The legend Maya Angelou passed away on the morning of the 28th of May 2014.
I remember when I first read “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”, I was thirteen back then and was suffering from school bullying. I recall singing the poetic book title to myself when I was down, I’d feel the thrill of victory when Marguerite got her way; the book channelled a sense of power and courage that no other could compare to.
I was so young at the time I didn’t realise that the story was actually a real autobiography until I was much older. I guess my naive head couldn’t digest the idea of so much hate, torture and misfortune one little girl could endure. But she’s a survivor, she’s the exceptional writer, the beautiful poet, the vigilant civil rights activist, the passionate feminist, she’s Maya Angelou.
She’s a woman that words can’t describe. I recall back in 2008 my great surprise when she announced she was supporting Hilary Clinton not Barack Obama! I couldn’t understand, sometimes I think she was the only African American not to support Obama! But as I read her letter supporting Clinton, I realised something, America has reached its peak of racial equality thanks to people like Maya Angelou and now she’s picked up a new fight to get to another peak, a peak where finally men and women can be equal in the work force. Only someone with vision and love like Maya Angelou could have done what she’d done back then. It was the act of a woman who’d lived her life for humanity. So today, in her memory, I’ll gather a few things you might know or not know about Maya Angelou as well as her most inspiring quotes (at least to me that is!).
• Maya Angelou was born under the name Marguerite Ann Johnson. “Maya” was a nickname given to her by her brother. She changed her name to “Maya Angelou” when she was 26 and worked as a professional Calypso dancer and singer in clubs.
• At the age of 8 she was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend. He was later trailed, released and killed by Maya’s maternal uncles. She went mute after that blaming herself for her rapist’s death.
“My 7-and-a-half-year-old logic deduced that my voice had killed him, so I stopped speaking for almost six years,” she said.
• At 16, she became the first black female street car conductor in San Francisco for the love of their uniforms! (this is one of the things she takes great pride in)
• At the age of 17, her last year in high school, she gave birth to her son.
• In 1954-1955 she toured around 22 countries as a professional dancer and singer, and began the habit of learning the language of every country she visited. She gained proficiency in several languages throughout her life.
• In 1957 she recorded her first album!
• Throughout her life Maya worked as “the front woman/business manager for prostitutes,” restaurant cook, prostitute, professional dancer, singer, actress, journalist and finally a writer and poet. She considered it a journey of self-teaching.
• In 1961 she moved to Cairo, Egypt to work as associate editor at the weekly English newspaper “The Arab Observer”. It was during her time in Cairo that she first met Nelson Mandela.
• Her first autobiography “I Know Why The caged Bird Sings” was published in 1969, gaining her international recognition and fame.
• She was nominated for a Tony Award in 1973 for her role in “Look Away”
• In the 1970s Maya met a young TV Anchor named “Oprah Winfrey” and went on to be her mentor and close friend.
• Her autobiographies were sometimes labelled as autobiographical fiction due her different writing style and take on writing autobiographies (she voiced herself as a character rather than say for example “this happened to me”, she introduced the readers to the characters individually as if it were a novel)
• In her works she never clarified the number of times she has been married, “for fear of sounding frivolous”.
• She wrote Hallmark greeting cards, she told USA Today, “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.”
• She was a guest star on Sesame Street! (when it was still educative)
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have”
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”
“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women”
“If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die”
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain”
Did you ever find Maya Angelou and her work inspiring? What’s your favourite book, poem, or quote? I’d love to hear your input in the comments below!