Maya Angelou: A Brief Biography

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Maya Angelou: A Brief Biography The daughter of Vivian Baxter and Bailey Jordan, Maya Angelou (née Marguerite Annie Johnson) was born in St. Louis, Missouri on April 4th, 1928. Angelou had a modest, comfortable upbringing and she was very close to her older brother, Bailey (who nicknamed her Maya,) and her grandmother, Annie (whom she lived with for many years after her parents divorced in 1931) (Smelstor and Hanford Bruce). However, her formative years weren’t without hardship: after moving back in with her mother at age seven, Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Her rapist was murdered shortly after his release from jail and Angelou – believing it was her fault he was killed – felt such guilt over the murder that she remained mute…show more content…
Growing up in the segregated South - where many Black men, women, and children still spent their days picking cotton - Angelou’s world view was shaped by the racism and bigotry she and her family members experienced. Once, Angelou watched as her much beloved and respected grandmother remained silent and strong while she was mocked and taunted by white children; on another occasion, a white dentist (who was financially indebted to Angelou’s grandmother) refused to treat Angelou because of her skin color. According to Angelou, this life in Arkansas “…had the power to grind the spirit into submission and pulverize the very ability to dream.” Ultimately, these experiences instilled in her a sense of resilience and strength that embodies much of her work. Although Angelou developed her love of literature and poetry at an early age, it was the assassinations of Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. (in 1965 and 1968, respectively) and encouragement from fellow artist James Baldwin that moved Angelou to begin writing her first and most famous work, the autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (“To Come; Maya Angelou;

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