Maya Angelou

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

Maya Angelou, Poet and Civil Rights Activist, 1928-2014

Maya Angelou was the author of 36 books, and had a life so interesting, it warranted six autobiographies, including 1969s genre-defining I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She was also Hollywood’s first female Black director, and worked for Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X during the civil rights movement. One of her generation’s most original and prolific thinkers, she was bestowed with more than 50 honorary degrees, and served on the Presidential Committees of both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. 

The voice of a generation of Black women, Angelou had to lose her voice in order to find it. After surviving a major childhood trauma, she stopped speaking at the age of 7, and would not utter a single word for 5 years. At age 12, a teacher coaxed her to regain her voice through the power of the spoken word. After having a son at the age of 17, Angelou became a performer, winning a scholarship in dance and drama and moving to San Francisco. To support her son, she worked as the first female, and first Black street car driver in San Francisco, while singing in nightclubs after hours. After being discovered, she toured the world with a production of Porgie and Bess in the 1950s, then signed up to work with the Civil Rights movement, before moving to Cairo, and then Ghana with her son to begin her writing career.

It was James Baldwin who convinced her to write I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, detailing her childhood in Mississippi: It became the first non-fiction bestseller written by an African-American woman. In her subsequent books, poems and essays, she explores themes of women’s strength, Black beauty, love and loss, protest and survival. A born performer, she has three Grammy Awards for her spoken word albums. In a poignant gesture, she wrote and read the poem “On the Pulse of Morning” for the occasion of Bill Clinton’s inauguration, a battle cry for racial harmony in America. Most recently, she was commemorated on an American quarter.


No items found.


No items found.