Maya Angelou: biography, awards, works, phrases

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Maya Angelou, pseudonym of Marguerite Ann Johnson, was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, United States. In addition to being a writer, she was also a dancer, singer, actress, teacher and political activist. His first work—the successful autobiography I know why the bird sings in the cage — was published in 1969.

The poet, who passed away on May 28, 2014, in Winston-Salem, United States, is the author of the poem I still get up. Her work, which was marked by social criticism, gender issues and condemnation of racism, made Maya known throughout the world. Furthermore, she became the first black woman to stamp a coin in the United States.

Read too: Carolina Maria de Jesus — one of the most important black writers in Brazilian literature

Summary about Maya Angelou

  • American author Maya Angelou was born in 1928 and died in 2014.
  • In addition to being a writer, she was a singer, dancer, actress and political activist.
  • The poet's works are inserted in the context of post-modernity.
  • Her books discuss issues of gender, race and memory.
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  • His most famous autobiographical work is I know why the bird sings in the cage.
  • Maya Angelou's most famous poem is I still get up.

Maya Angelou Biography

Maya Angelou (Marguerite Ann Johnson) born April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, in United States. At the age of 7, she was raped by her mother's boyfriend. As a result, the rapist was killed by the writer's uncles. Feeling guilty, the girl stopped talking and remained so for the next five years.

She spoke again at age 12, under the influence of a black lady named Mrs. Flowers, who taught her to love poetry. Later, Angelou attended George Washington High School in San Francisco and got a scholarship to study dance and theater at California Labor School.

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At the age of 17, she became the mother of Guy Johnson. To support herself, she went to first black woman to drive a streetcar in San Francisco. But she also had other jobs: a dancer, a cook in cafeterias and a restaurant, in addition to being an employee of a mechanical workshop.

In 1950, she married Tosh Angelos (1925-1978), a former sailor, but the marriage did not last long. So, she went to study dance in New York, in addition to being a singer at the Purple Onion cabaret, also in San Francisco. In the late 1950s, she was a late-night singer on the West Coast. too engaged in the struggle for civil rights and worked with Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968).

Later, she and her son lived in Cairo and, from 1962, in Ghana, in Africa, where she worked as a writer and editor. Back in the United States, around 1965, she decided to write her autobiography. I know why the bird sings in the cage. The success of the work, published in 1969, was immediate.

In 1972, the writer became the first black woman to have a script produced: the work Georgia, Georgia. She also participated in the presidential committees of Gerald Ford (1913-2006), in the year 1975, and Jimmy Carter, in 1977. Furthermore, she was Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.

In addition to participating in other productions, she played, in 1993, the role of Aunt June in the film no fear in the heart. That same year, her fame increased when she wrote, at the invitation of President Bill Clinton, the poem on the pulse of the morning, read by her on national television. THE poem speaks of peace and acceptance of differences.

Maya Angelou passed away on May 28, 2014, in Winston-Salem, United States.

  • First black woman to stamp a coin in the United States

A pioneer in many ways, Maya Angelou became, in 2022, the first black woman to be stamped on a coin in the United States. THE tribute took place by means of a 25-cent coin, widely circulated in the country.

  • Awards received by Maya Angelou

  • Grammy Awards (1993)
  • Grammy Awards (1995)
  • National Medal of Arts (2000)
  • Grammy Awards (2002)
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010)
  • Literary Award (2013)

Works by Maya Angelou

Cover of the book I Know Why the Bird Sings in the Cage, by Maya Angelou, published by Astral Cultural. [2]
Book cover I know why the bird sings in the cage, by Maya Angelou, published by Astral Cultural. [2]

→ Poetry

  • Just give me a glass of cool water before I die (1971)
  • Oh pray my wings fit me right (1975)
  • I still get up (1978)
  • Shaker, why don't you sing? (1983)
  • poems (1986)
  • Now Sheba sings the song (1987)
  • on the pulse of the morning (1993)
  • phenomenal woman (1995)
  • A brave and surprising truth (1995)
  • From a black woman to a black man (1995)
  • Even the stars seem lonely (1997)
  • wonderful peace (2005)
  • Celebrations: rituals of peace and prayer (2006)
  • poetry for young people (2007)
  • we had it (2009)
  • your day is over (2013)

→ Autobiographies

  • I know why the bird sings in the cage (1969)
  • Gather in my name (1974)
  • Singing and dancing and getting happy like Christmas (1976)
  • a woman's heart (1981)
  • All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986)
  • A song released to the sky (2002)
  • letter to my daughter (2008)
  • Mom & Me & Mom (2013)

→ Cooking books

  • Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes (2004)
  • Good food all day: cook splendidly, eat smart (2010)

→ Children's Literature

  • Mrs. Flowers: a moment of friendship (1986).
  • Kofi and his magic (1996).
  • life doesn't scare me (1998).

→ Theater

  • freedom cabaret (1960)
  • The whole day (1966)
  • The smallest of these (1966)
  • the best of these (1966)
  • getting on my mind (1967)
  • I still get up (1976)

→ Film and television

  • blacks, blues, black! (1968)
  • Georgia, Georgia (1972)
  • Part one: the legacy (1976)
  • Part Two: The Heirs (1976)
  • I know why the bird sings in the cage (1979)
  • sister, sister (1982)
  • Resurrection (1998)

Read too: The representation of black people in Brazilian literature

Analysis of I still get up

THE Maya Angelou's best-known work it's the poem I still get up. In it, the lyrical self states that “You can scratch me out of History” and “throw me against the dirt floor” that even so “I will get up”. And he continues to say to his interlocutor:

You can throw me sharp words,

Tear me apart with your gaze,

You can kill me in the name of hate,

But still, like the air, I will rise.

The poetic voice thus demonstrates that it will resist racism and affirms its ethnic pride:

From the favela, from the humiliation imposed by color

I stand up

From a past rooted in pain

I stand up

I am a black ocean, deep in faith,

Growing and expanding like the tide.

Among other things, the I lyrical affirms that he leaves “behind nights of terror and atrocity” and walks towards “a new day of intense clarity”. And he ends his poem this way:

I carry the dream and hope of the enslaved man.

And so I get up

I stand up

I stand up.|1|

In this way, he finds strength and hope in the strength of those who came before him and shows the resilience and persistence of black people. After all, despite the regrets, they always get up. And her statement becomes even more significant when we remember that the interlocutor is a racist and oppressor.

Illustration of three black women together, representing black resistance.
The poem I still get up it is a symbol of resistance.

Features of the work of Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou's works are inserted in the context of post-modernity and have the following characteristics:

  • confessional character;
  • social criticism;
  • free verses;
  • condemnation of racism;
  • affirmation of blackness;
  • protagonism of the female voice;
  • identity perspective;
  • autobiographical writing;
  • issues of gender, race and memory;
  • representation of black beauty;
  • narrative fragmentation;
  • cultural hybridity.

Read too:Paulina Chiziane — first black woman to win the Camões Prize

Maya Angelou Quotes

Next, we are going to read some phrases by Maya Angelou, taken from her poems Men|2|, phenomenal woman|3|, bird in the cage|4| and touched by an angel|5|. For this, we made an adaptation and turned his verses into prose:

“Men are always going somewhere.”

“I am a woman in a phenomenal way.”

“When you see me pass, be proud of your look.”

“A bird lurking in its narrow cage can barely see through
your bars of fury.”

“Love sacrifices everything we are and what we will be.”

"It's only love that sets us free."


|1| Translation by Mauro Catopodis.

|2| Translation by Adriano Scandolara.

|3| Translation by Rita Cammarota.

|4| Translation by Bianca Peter.

|5| Translation by Ana Calazans.

Image credits

[1] spatulatail / shutterstock

[2] Astral Cultural Publisher (reproduction)

By Warley Souza
Literature teacher
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