Maya Angelou Unisex T-Shirt
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Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou (/ˈændʒəloʊ/ (listen) ANN-jəl-oh; born Marguerite Annie Johnson; April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014) was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim.
She became a poet and writer after a string of odd jobs during her young adulthood. These included fry cook, sex worker, nightclub performer, Porgy and Bess cast member, Southern Christian Leadership Conference coordinator, and correspondent in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa. She was also an actress, writer, director, and producer of plays, movies, and public television programs. In 1982, she was named the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement and worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Beginning in the 1990s, she made approximately 80 appearances a year on the lecture circuit, something she continued into her eighties. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” (1993) at the first inauguration of Bill Clinton, making her the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961.
With the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou publicly discussed aspects of her personal life. She was respected as a spokesperson for Black people and women, and her works have been considered a defense of Black culture. Her works are widely used in schools and universities worldwide, although attempts have been made to ban her books from some US libraries. Angelou’s most celebrated works have been labeled as autobiographical fiction, but many critics consider them to be autobiographies. She made a deliberate attempt to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing and expanding the genre. Her books center on themes including racism, identity, family and travel.
Maya Angelou – Civil Rights Activist & Author | Mini Bio | BIO
Adulthood and early career: 1951–61
In 1951, Angelou married Tosh Angelos, a Greek electrician, former sailor, and aspiring musician, despite the condemnation of interracial relationships at the time and the disapproval of her mother. She took modern dance classes during this time, and met dancers and choreographers Alvin Ailey and Ruth Beckford. Ailey and Angelou formed a dance team, calling themselves “Al and Rita”, and performed modern dance at fraternal Black organizations throughout San Francisco but never became successful. Angelou, her new husband, and her son moved to New York City so she could study African dance with Trinidadian dancer Pearl Primus, but they returned to San Francisco a year later.
After Angelou’s marriage ended in 1954, she danced professionally in clubs around San Francisco, including the nightclub The Purple Onion, where she sang and danced to calypso music. Up to that point, she went by the name of “Marguerite Johnson”, or “Rita”, but at the strong suggestion of her managers and supporters at The Purple Onion, she changed her professional name to “Maya Angelou” (her nickname and former married surname). It was a “distinctive name” that set her apart and captured the feel of her calypso dance performances. During 1954 and 1955, Angelou toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. She began her practice of learning the language of every country she visited, and in a few years she gained proficiency in several languages. In 1957, riding on the popularity of calypso, Angelou recorded her first album, Miss Calypso, which was reissued as a CD in 1996. She appeared in an off-Broadway review that inspired the 1957 film Calypso Heat Wave, in which Angelou sang and performed her own compositions.
Angelou met novelist John Oliver Killens in 1959 and, at his urging, moved to New York to concentrate on her writing career. She joined the Harlem Writers Guild, where she met several major African-American authors, including John Henrik Clarke, Rosa Guy, Paule Marshall, and Julian Mayfield, and was published for the first time. In 1960, after meeting civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and hearing him speak, she and Killens organized “the legendary” Cabaret for Freedom to benefit the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and she was named SCLC’s Northern Coordinator. According to scholar Lyman B. Hagen, her contributions to civil rights as a fundraiser and SCLC organizer were successful and “eminently effective”. Angelou also began her pro-Castro and anti-apartheid activism during this time.
Africa to Caged Bird: 1961–69
In 1961, Angelou performed in Jean Genet‘s play The Blacks, along with Abbey Lincoln, Roscoe Lee Brown, James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett, Godfrey Cambridge, and Cicely Tyson. Also in 1961, she met South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make; they never officially married. She and her son Guy moved with Make to Cairo, where Angelou worked as an associate editor at the weekly English-language newspaper The Arab Observer. In 1962, her relationship with Make ended, and she and Guy moved to Accra, Ghana so he could attend college, but he was seriously injured in an automobile accident. Angelou remained in Accra for his recovery and ended up staying there until 1965. She became an administrator at the University of Ghana, and was active in the African-American expatriate community. She was a feature editor for The African Review, a freelance writer for the Ghanaian Times, wrote and broadcast for Radio Ghana, and worked and performed for Ghana’s National Theatre. She performed in a revival of The Blacks in Geneva and Berlin.
In Accra, she became close friends with Malcolm X during his visit in the early 1960s. Angelou returned to the US in 1965 to help him build a new civil rights organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity; he was assassinated shortly afterward. Devastated and adrift, she joined her brother in Hawaii, where she resumed her singing career. She moved back to Los Angeles to focus on her writing career. Working as a market researcher in Watts, Angelou witnessed the riots in the summer of 1965. She acted in and wrote plays, and returned to New York in 1967. She met her lifelong friend Rosa Guy and renewed her friendship with James Baldwin, whom she had met in Paris in the 1950s and called “my brother”, during this time. Her friend Jerry Purcell provided Angelou with a stipend to support her writing.
In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. asked Angelou to organize a march. She agreed, but “postpones again”, and in what Gillespie calls “a macabre twist of fate”, he was assassinated on her 40th birthday (April 4). Devastated again, she was encouraged out of her depression by her friend James Baldwin. As Gillespie states, “If 1968 was a year of great pain, loss, and sadness, it was also the year when America first witnessed the breadth and depth of Maya Angelou’s spirit and creative genius”. Despite having almost no experience, she wrote, produced, and narrated Blacks, Blues, Black!, a ten-part series of documentaries about the connection between blues music and Black Americans’ African heritage, and what Angelou called the “Africanisms still current in the U.S.” for National Educational Television, the precursor of PBS. Also in 1968, inspired at a dinner party she attended with Baldwin, cartoonist Jules Feiffer, and his wife Judy, and challenged by Random House editor Robert Loomis, she wrote her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969. This brought her international recognition and acclaim.
Released in 1972, Angelou’s Georgia, Georgia, produced by a Swedish film company and filmed in Sweden, was the first produced screenplay by a Black woman. She also wrote the film’s soundtrack, despite having very little additional input in the filming of the movie. Angelou married Paul du Feu, a Welsh carpenter and ex-husband of writer Germaine Greer, in San Francisco in 1973. Over the next ten years, as Gillespie has stated, “She [Angelou] had accomplished more than many artists hope to achieve in a lifetime.” Angelou worked as a composer, writing for singer Roberta Flack, and composing movie scores. She wrote articles, short stories, TV scripts, documentaries, autobiographies, and poetry. She produced plays and was named visiting professor at several colleges and universities. She was “a reluctant actor”, and was nominated for a Tony Award in 1973 for her role in Look Away. As a theater director, in 1988 she undertook a revival of Errol John‘s play Moon on a Rainbow Shawl at the Almeida Theatre in London.
In 1977, Angelou appeared in a supporting role in the television mini-series Roots. She was given a multitude of awards during this period, including more than thirty honorary degrees from colleges and universities from all over the world. In the late 1970s, Angelou met Oprah Winfrey when Winfrey was a TV anchor in Baltimore, Maryland; Angelou would later become Winfrey’s close friend and mentor. In 1981, Angelou and du Feu divorced.
She returned to the southern United States in 1981 because she felt she had to come to terms with her past there and, despite having no bachelor’s degree, accepted the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she was one of a few full-time African-American professors. From that point on, she considered herself “a teacher who writes”. Angelou taught a variety of subjects that reflected her interests, including philosophy, ethics, theology, science, theater, and writing. The Winston-Salem Journal reported that even though she made many friends on campus, “she never quite lived down all of the criticism from people who thought she was more of a celebrity than an intellect…[and] an overpaid figurehead”. The last course she taught at Wake Forest was in 2011, but she was planning to teach another course in late 2014. Her final speaking engagement at the university was in late 2013. Beginning in the 1990s, Angelou actively participated in the lecture circuit in a customized tour bus, something she continued into her eighties.
In 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton, becoming the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy‘s inauguration in 1961. Her recitation resulted in more fame and recognition for her previous works, and broadened her appeal “across racial, economic, and educational boundaries”. The recording of the poem won a Grammy Award. In June 1995, she delivered what Richard Long called her “second ‘public’ poem”, entitled “A Brave and Startling Truth“, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.
Angelou achieved her goal of directing a feature film in 1996, Down in the Delta, which featured actors such as Alfre Woodard and Wesley Snipes. Also in 1996, she collaborated with R&B artists Ashford & Simpson on seven of the eleven tracks of their album Been Found. The album was responsible for three of Angelou’s only Billboard chart appearances. In 2000, she created a successful collection of products for Hallmark, including greeting cards and decorative household items. She responded to critics who charged her with being too commercial by stating that “the enterprise was perfectly in keeping with her role as ‘the people’s poet'”. More than thirty years after Angelou began writing her life story, she completed her sixth autobiography A Song Flung Up to Heaven, in 2002.
Angelou campaigned for the Democratic Party in the 2008 presidential primaries, giving her public support to Hillary Clinton. In the run-up to the January Democratic primary in South Carolina, the Clinton campaign ran ads featuring Angelou’s endorsement. The ads were part of the campaign’s efforts to rally support in the Black community; but Barack Obama won the South Carolina primary, finishing 29 points ahead of Clinton and taking 80% of the Black vote. When Clinton’s campaign ended, Angelou put her support behind Obama, who went on to win the presidential election and became the first African-American president of the United States. After Obama’s inauguration, she stated, “We are growing up beyond the idiocies of racism and sexism.”
In late 2010, Angelou donated her personal papers and career memorabilia to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. They consisted of more than 340 boxes of documents that featured her handwritten notes on yellow legal pads for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a 1982 telegram from Coretta Scott King, fan mail, and personal and professional correspondence from colleagues such as her editor Robert Loomis. In 2011, Angelou served as a consultant for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. She spoke out in opposition to a paraphrase of a quotation by King that appeared on the memorial, saying, “The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit”, and demanded that it be changed. Eventually, the paraphrase was removed.
In 2013, at the age of 85, Angelou published the seventh volume of autobiography in her series, entitled Mom & Me & Mom, which focuses on her relationship with her mother.
Maya Angelou – One On One (1983)
Dr. Maya Angelou – I Am Human
Maya Angelou Live and Unplugged
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