Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Mieography

Margaret Ann Johnson was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1928. Her father was a doorman, and also a dietician in the Navy. Her mother was a real estate agent, and trained surgical nurse, and, interestingly enough, later became a merchant marine. Her older brother nicknamed her Maya,  derived from "my-a-sister." Her parents marriage ended when she was three years old, and her brother was four. They were sent alone, by train, to to live with their father's mother in Arkansas. They were there for four years before they were returned to their mother's care. Sadly, at eight years old, Maya was sexually abused, and raped by her mother's boyfriend. She told her brother, who alerted the family. The man was found guilty, but spent only one day in jail. He died after his release, by being kicked to death. Some speculate it was by Maya's uncles. She became mute after this, thinking she was responsible for his death, that she had killed him because her voice spoke his name. She remained that way for five years. The children were sent to live with their grandmother in Arkansas again. While there, a friend of the family introduced her to classic literature. Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe to name a few. 

     When she was thirteen, she and her brother went to live with her mother, again, this time in San Francisco. She attended highschool, studied dance and drama, and worked as the first black female streetcar conductor. She gave birth to a son, Clyde, while she was there. To support herself and her son, she made her living doing various jobs, including prostitution, and being the madame at a brothel. She moved from job to job, city to city, trying to raise her son.
     In 1952, she married a Greek sailor, and three years later, she divorced him. She never clarifies how many times she's been married, not wanting to sound 'frivolous'. She has been married and divorced at least three times. She had been going by "Marguerite Johnson", or "Rita". However, the managers at a San Francisco nightclub called The Purple Onion suggested she adopt a more theatrical name, thus, Maya Angelou became to be. 
     She ended up touring Europe with a production of Porgy and Bess, she studied modern dance with Martha Graham, and recorded an album called "Miss Calypso". She also was in a dance team with Alvin Ailey, specializing in elements of modern dance, ballet, and tribal dancing. She struggled with trying to be a good mother, and balancing her career.
     In the 50's, she also joined the Harlem Writers Guild, meeting numerous African American authors. She also heard Dr. King speak, and joined the Civil Rights Movement. She met a South African freedom fighter, and moved with him (bringing her son with her) to Cairo, Egypt. When the relationship didn't work out, she and her son moved to Ghana, where she worked at their school of Music and Drama. She learned Spanish, French, and Fante during her travels. She became close friends with Malcolm X, and returned to the United States to help him build a new civil rights organization. He was assassinated shortly after that, as was Dr. King. Dr. King was assassinated on her birthday, and she sent flowers each year to his widow on that day.
     She wrote her first autobiography, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" in 1969, and has written a total of six autobiographies about herself.
     She married again in 1973, and moved to Sonoma, California. She had many productive years as a writer and poet during this time. She composed music for movies, wrote articles, produced plays, and lectured at universities as well. She also had a supporting role in Roots, and wrote some songs for Roberta Flack.  Her screen play, Georgia, Georgia, was the first original script by a black woman to be produced. She also met Oprah during this time.
     She divorced, again, and returned to the Southern States in 1981. She recited poetry at Bill Clinton's inauguration, and continued to travel, and lecture, mostly on college campus'. 
     She is still very active in both lecturing, and writing, and his been honored with many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Arts.


Daryl said...

Fascinating .. I had no idea she led such a nomadic life ... or that she had a son. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I've always loved her work, but I didn't know much about her life.