Angelou, Maya 1928-
ANGELOU, Maya 1928-
PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "Ahn-ge-low"; born Marguerite Annie Johnson, April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, MO; daughter of Bailey (a doorman and naval dietician) and Vivian (a registered nurse, professional gambler, and a rooming house and bar owner; maiden name, Baxter) Johnson; married Tosh Angelos, 1950 (divorced); married Paul Du Feu, December, 1973 (divorced, 1981); children: Guy. Education: Attended public schools in Arkansas and California; studied music privately, dance with Martha Graham, Pearl Primus, and Ann Halprin, and drama with Frank Silvera and Gene Frankel; studied cinematography in Sweden.
ADDRESSES: Home—Winston-Salem, NC. Agent—c/o Dave La Camera, Lordly and Dame, Inc., 51 Church Street, Boston, MA 02116.
CAREER: Author, poet, scriptwriter, playwright, performer, actress, and composer. Arab Observer (English-language newsweekly), Cairo, Egypt, associate editor, 1961-62; University of Ghana, Institute of African Studies, Legon-Accra, Ghana, assistant administrator of School of Music and Drama, 1963-66; freelance writer for Ghanaian Times and Ghanaian Broadcasting Corporation, 1963-65; African Review, Accra, feature editor, 1964-66. Lecturer at University of California, Los Angeles, 1966; writer-in-residence at University of Kansas, 1970; distinguished visiting professor at Wake Forest University, Wichita State University, and California State University, Sacramento, 1974; Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, 1981—; visiting professor, universities in the United States; lecturer at various locations in the United States. Southern Christian Leadership Conference, northern coordinator, 1959-60; appointed member of American Revolution Bicentennial Council by President Gerald R. Ford, 1975-76; member of the Presidential Commission for International Women's Year, 1978-79; Board of Governors, University of North Carolina, Maya Angelou Institute for the Improvement of Child & Family Education at Winston-Salem State University, Winston-Salem, NC, 1998. Writer of poems for Hallmark greeting cards and gifts, 2002—.
Appeared in Porgy and Bess on twenty-two nation tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, 1954-55; appeared in Off-Broadway plays, Calypso Heatwave, 1957, and Jean Genet's The Blacks, 1960; produced and performed in Cabaret for Freedom, Off-Broadway, 1960; appeared in Mother Courage at University of Ghana, 1964; appeared in Medea in Hollywood, 1966; television narrator, interviewer, and host for African American specials and theater series, 1972—; made Broadway debut in Look Away, 1973; directed film, All Day Long, 1974; appeared in television miniseries Roots, 1977; directed play, And Still I Rise, Oakland, CA, 1976; directed play, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, by Errol John, London, 1988; appeared as Aunt June in film, Poetic Justice, 1993; appeared as Lelia Mae in television film, There Are No Children Here, 1993; appeared in advertising for the United Negro College Fund, 1994; appeared as Anna in film, How to Make an American Quilt, 1995; narrator of the film The Journey of the August King, 1995; narrator of the video Elmo Saves Christmas, 1996; appeared in the film Down in the Delta, 1998; appeared in film The Amen Corner and television series Down in the Delta, both 1999; appeared as Conjure Woman in the television special The Runaway, 2000; appeared as herself in various television specials.
MEMBER: American Film Institute (member of board of trustees, 1975—), Directors Guild of America, Equity, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Women's Prison Association (member of advisory board), National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year, Harlem Writer's Guild,Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, W. E. B. DuBois Foundation, National Society of Collegiate Scholars, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Book Award nomination, 1970, for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; Yale University fellow, 1970; Pulitzer Prize nomination, 1972, for Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie; Tony Award nomination, 1973, for performance in Look Away; Rockefeller Foundation scholar in Italy, 1975; named Woman of the Year in Communications, Ladies' Home Journal, 1976; Emmy Award nomination, 1977, for performance in Roots; appointed first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, 1981; Matrix Award in the field of books, Women in Communication, Inc., 1983; North Carolina Award in Literature, 1987; Langston Hughes Award, City College of New York, 1991; Horatio Alger Award, 1992; Inaugural poet for President Bill Clinton, 1993; Grammy, Best Spoken Word Album, 1994, for recording of "On the Pulse of Morning"; etiquette award, National League of Junior Cotillions, 1993; Medal of Distinction, University of Hawaii Board of Regents, 1994; President's Award, Collegiate of Language Association for Outstanding Achievements, 1996; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Los Angeles and Martin Luther King, Jr., Legacy Association National Award, 1996; named to the New York Black 100 list, Schomburg Center and The Black New Yorkers, 1996; distinguished merit citation, National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1997; Homecoming Award, Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers, 1997; North Carolina Woman of the Year Award, North Carolina Black Publishers Association, 1997; Presidential & Lecture Series Award, University of North Florida, 1997; Cultural Keeper Awards, Black Caucus of the American Library Association, 1997; Humanitarian Contribution Award, Boston, MA, 1997; Alston/Jones International Civil and Human Rights Award, 1998; Christopher Award, New York, NY, 1998; American Airlines Audience, Gold Plaque Choice Award, Chicago International Film Festival, 1998, for Down in the Delta; Sheila Award, Tubman African American Museum, 1999; Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature, 1999; named one of the 100 best writers of the twentieth century, Writer's Digest, 1999; National Medal of Arts, 2000; Grammy award, 2002, for recording of A Song Flung Up to Heaven; recipient of over fifty honorary degrees from colleges and universities.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Random House (New York, NY), 1970, reprinted, 2002.
Gather Together in My Name, Random House (New York, NY), 1974, reprinted, 1990.
Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry like Christmas, Random House (New York, NY), 1976.
The Heart of a Woman, Random House (New York, NY), 1981.
All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.
A Song Flung up to Heaven, Random House (New York, NY), 2002.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou (omnibus edition of all six autobiographies), Modern Library (New York, NY), 2004.
Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie, Random House (New York, NY), 1971.
Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well, Random House (New York, NY), 1975.
And Still I Rise, Random House (New York, NY), 1978, new version published as Still I Rise, illustrated by Diego Rivera, edited by Linda Sunshine, Random House (New York, NY), 2001.
Shaker, Why Don't You Sing?, Random House (New York, NY), 1983.
Poems, four volumes, Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
Now Sheba Sings the Song (illustrated poem), illustrations by Tom Feelings, Dutton (New York, NY), 1987.
I Shall Not Be Moved, Random House (New York, NY), 1990.
On the Pulse of Morning, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.
The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou, Random House (New York, NY), 1994.
A Brave and Startling Truth, Random House (New York, NY), 1995.
Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women, Random House (New York, NY), 1995, new edition published as Phenomenal Woman, paintings by Paul Gaugin, edited by Linda Sunshine, Random House (New York, NY), 2000.
Also author of The Poetry of Maya Angelou, 1969. Contributor of poems in The Language They Speak Is Things to Eat: Poems by Fifteen Contemporary North Carolina Poets and to Mary Higgins Clark, Mother, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Lessons in Living, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.
Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.
Even the Stars Look Lonesome, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
Hallelujah! The Welcome Table, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
CHILDREN'S PICTURE BOOKS
Mrs. Flowers: A Moment of Friendship (selection from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) illustrated by Etienne Delessert, Redpath Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1986.
Life Doesn't Frighten Me (poem), edited by Sara Jane Boyers, illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Stewart, Tabori & Chang (New York, NY), 1993.
(With others) Soul Looks Back in Wonder, illustrated by Tom Feelings, Dial (New York, NY), 1993.
My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me, photographs by Margaret Courtney-Clarke, Crown (New York, NY), 1994.
Kofi and His Magic, photographs by Margaret Courtney-Clarke, Crown (New York, NY), 1996.
Angelina of Italy, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
Izak of Lapland, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
Renie Marie of France, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
Mikale of Hawaii, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
(With Godfrey Cambridge) Cabaret for Freedom (musical revue), produced at Village Gate Theatre, New York, 1960.
The Least of These (two-act drama), produced in Los Angeles, 1966.
(Adapter) Sophocles, Ajax (two-act drama), produced at Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, 1974.
(And director) And Still I Rise (one-act musical), produced in Oakland, CA, 1976.
(Author of poems for screenplay) Poetic Justice (screenplay), Columbia Pictures, 1993.
(Author of lyrics, with Alistair Beaton) King, book by Lonne Elder, III, music by Richard Blackford, London, 1990.
Also author of the play Gettin' up Stayed on My Mind, 1967, a drama, The Best of These, a two-act drama, The Clawing Within, 1966, a two-act musical, Adjoa Amissah, 1967, and a one-act play, Theatrical Vignette, 1983.
FILM AND TELEVISION SCRIPTS
Georgia, Georgia (screenplay), Independent-Cinerama, 1972.
(And director) All Day Long (screenplay), American Film Institute, 1974.
(Writer of script and musical score) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, CBS, 1979.
Sister, Sister (television drama), National Broadcasting Co., Inc. (NBC-TV), 1982.
(Writer of poetry) John Singleton, Poetic Justice (motion picture), Columbia Pictures, 1993.
Composer of songs, including two songs for movie For Love of Ivy, and composer of musical scores for both her screenplays. Author of Black, Blues, Black, a series of ten one-hour programs, broadcast by National Educational Television (NET-TV), 1968. Also author of Assignment America, a series of six one-half-hour programs, 1975, and of The Legacy and The Inheritors, two television specials, 1976. Other documentaries include Trying to Make It Home (Byline series), 1988, and Maya Angelou's America: A Journey of the Heart (also host). Public Broadcasting Service Productions include Who Cares about Kids, Kindred Spirits, Maya Angelou: Rainbow in the Clouds, and To the Contrary. Writer for television series Brewster Place, Harpo Productions.
Miss Calypso (audio recording of songs), Liberty Records, 1957.
The Poetry of Maya Angelou (audio recording), GWP Records, 1969.
An Evening with Maya Angelou (audio cassette), Pacific Tape Library, 1975.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (audio cassette with filmstrip and teacher's guide), Center for Literary Review, 1978, abridged version, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.
Women in Business (audio cassette), University of Wisconsin, 1981.
Making Magic in the World (audio cassette), New Dimensions, 1988.
On the Pulse of Morning (audio production), Ingram, 1993.
Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now (audio production), Ingram, 1993.
Phenomenal Woman (audio production), Ingram, 1995.
Been Found, 1996.
Conversations with Maya Angelou, edited by Jeffrey M. Elliot, Virago Press (London, England), 1989.
Maya Angelou (four-volume boxed set), Ingram (London, England), 1995.
(With Mary Ellen Mark) Mary Ellen Mark: American Odyssey, Aperture (New York, NY), 1998.
Contributor to books, including Poetic Justice: Filmmaking South Central Style, Delta, 1993; Bearing Witness: Contemporary Works by African American Women Artists, Rizzoli International Publications, 1996; The Journey Back: A Survivor's Guide to Leukemia, Rainbow's End Company, 1996; The Challenge of Creative Leadership, Shephard-Walwyn, 1998; and Amistad: "Give Us Free": A Celebration of the Film by Stephen Spielberg, Newmarket Press, 1998.
Author of forewords to African Canvas: The Art of African Women, by Margaret Courtney-Clarke, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1991; Dust Tracks on the Road: An Autobiography, by Zora Neale Hurston, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991; Caribbean & African Cooking, by Rosamund Grant, Interlink (Northampton, MA), 1993; Double Stitch: Black Women Write about Mothers & Daughters, HarperCollins, 1993; African Americans: A Portrait, by Richard A. Long, Crescent Books (New York, NY), 1993; and Essence: Twenty-five Years Celebrating Black Women, edited by Patricia M. Hinds, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1995; author of introduction to Not without Laughter, by Langston Hughes, Scribner (New York, NY), 1995; author of preface to Mending the World: Stories of Family by Contemporary Black Writers, edited by Rosemarie Robotham, BasicCivitas Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Author, with Charlie Reilly and Amiri Bakara, Conversations with Amiri Bakara. Short stories are included in anthologies, including Harlem and Ten Times Black. Contributor of articles, short stories, and poems to national periodicals, including Harper's, Ebony, Essence, Mademoiselle, Redbook, Ladies' Home Journal, Black Scholar, Architectural Digest, New Perspectives Quarterly, Savvy Woman, and Ms. Magazine.
ADAPTATIONS: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was adapted as a television movie by Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (CBS-TV), 1979; And Still I Rise was adapted as a television special by Public Broadcasting Service (PBS-TV), 1985; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was produced for audio cassette and compact disk, Ingram, 1996.
SIDELIGHTS: As a young black woman growing up in the South, and later in wartime San Francisco, Maya Angelou faced racism from whites and poor treatment from many men. She found that, in this position, few things in life came easily to her. But instead of letting forces beyond her control overcome her, Angelou began to forge art from her early experiences and to change the world as she'd once known it. She became a singer, dancer, actress, composer, and Hollywood's first female black director. She became a writer, editor, essayist, playwright, poet, and screenwriter. She became known, as Annie Gottlieb wrote in the New York Times Book Review, as a person who "writes like a song, and like the truth. The wisdom, rue and humor of her storytelling are borne on a lilting rhythm completely her own."
Angelou also became a civil rights activist—she worked at one time for Dr. Martin Luther King and once staged a protest at the United Nations—as well as an educator. By 1975, wrote Carol E. Neubauer in Southern Women Writers: The New Generation, "Angelou had become recognized not only as a spokesperson for blacks and women, but also for all people who are committed to raising the moral standards of living in the United States." She did so by writing about herself, by fighting for civil and women's rights, and by providing an amazing example of the human potential to rise above defeat. Angelou explained this herself in an interview with George Plimpton in the Paris Review: "In all my work, in the movies I write, the lyrics, the poetry, the prose, the essays, I am saying that we may encounter many defeats—maybe it's imperative that we encounter the defeats—but we are much stronger than we appear to be, and maybe much better than we allow ourselves to be."
Angelou was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and lived her early years in Long Beach, California. As she related in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first book of her six-volume memoirs, she was just three years old when her parents divorced. Her father sent Angelou and her four-year-old brother alone by train to the home of his mother in Stamps, Arkansas. In Stamps, a segregated town, "Momma" (as Angelou and her brother Bailey called their grandmother) took care of the children and ran a lunch business and a store. The children were expected to stay clean and sinless, and to do well in school. Although she followed the example of her independent and strong-willed grandmother, and was a healthy child, Angelou felt ugly and unloved. When her mother, who lived in St. Louis, requested a visit from the children, Angelou was shocked by her mother's paler complexion, and by the red lipstick her grandmother would have thought scandalous. Angelou was almost as over-whelmed by her mother's wildness and determination as she was by her beauty.
Life in St. Louis was different from that in Stamps; Angelou was unprepared for the rushing noises of city life and the Saturday night parties. Then, when she was just seven-and-a-half years old, something terrible happened. In one of the most evocative (and controversial) moments in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou described how she was first lovingly cuddled, then raped by her mother's boyfriend. When the man was murdered by her uncles for his crime, Angelou felt responsible, and she stopped talking. She and her brother were sent back to Stamps. Angelou remained mute for five years, but she developed a love for language and the spoken word. She read and memorized books, including the works of black authors and poets Langston Hughes, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Even though she and Bailey were discouraged from reading the works of white writers at home, Angelou read and fell in love with the works of William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Edgar Allan Poe. When Angelou was twelve and a half, Mrs. Flowers, an educated black woman, finally got her to speak again. Mrs. Flowers, as Angelou recalled in Mrs. Flowers: A Moment of Friendship, emphasized the importance of the spoken word, explained the nature of and importance of education, and instilled in her a love of poetry. Angelou graduated at the top of her eighth-grade class.
When race relations made Stamps a dangerous place for Angelou and her brother, "Momma" took the children to San Francisco, where Angelou's mother was working as a professional gambler. World War II was raging, and while San Franciscans prepared for air raids that never came, Angelou prepared for the rest of her life by attending George Washington High School and by taking lessons in dance and drama on a scholarship at the California Labor School. When Angelou, just seventeen, graduated from high school and gave birth to a son, she began to work as well. She worked as the first female and black street car conductor in San Francisco. As she explained in Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry like Christmas, she also "worked as a shake dancer in night clubs, fry cook in hamburger joints, dinner cook in a Creole restaurant and once had a job in a mechanic's shop, taking the paint off cars with my hands." For a time, Angelou also managed a couple of prostitutes.
Angelou married a white ex-sailor, Tosh Angelos, in 1950. The pair did not have much in common, and Angelou began to take note of the reaction of people—especially African Americans—to their union. After they separated, Angelou continued her study of dance in New York City. She returned to San Francisco and sang in the Purple Onion cabaret. There, Angelou garnered the attention of talent scouts. From 1954 to 1955, she was a member of the cast of a touring production of Porgy and Bess; she visited twenty-two countries before leaving the tour to return to her son. During the late 1950s, Angelou sang in West Coast and Hawaiian nightclubs. After some time living in a houseboat commune in Sausalito, California, she returned to New York.
In New York, Angelou continued her stage career with an appearance in an Off-Broadway show, Calypso Heatwave. Then, with the encouragement of writer John Killens, she joined the Harlem Writers Guild and met James Baldwin and other important writers. It was during this time that Angelou had the opportunity to hear Dr. Martin Luther King speak. Inspired by his message, she decided to become a part of the struggle for civil rights. So, with comedian Godfrey Cambridge, she wrote, produced, directed, and starred in Cabaret for Freedom in 1960, a benefit for Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Given the organizational abilities she demonstrated as she worked for the benefit, she was offered a position as the northern coordinator for Dr. King's SCLC. She appeared in Jean Genet's play, The Blacks, which won an Obie Award, in 1960.
Angelou began to live with Vusumzi Make, a South African freedom fighter; with Angelou's son Guy, they relocated to Cairo, Egypt. There, Angelou found work as an associate editor at the Arab Observer. As she recalled in The Heart of a Woman, she learned a great deal about writing there, but Vusumzi could not tolerate the fact that she was working. After her relationship with him ended, Angelou went on to Ghana, in West Africa, in 1962. She later worked at the University of Ghana's School of Music and Drama as an assistant administrator. She worked as a freelance writer and was a feature editor at African Review. As she related in All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, Angelou also played the title role in Mother Courage during this time.
Angelou returned to the United States in the mid-1960s and found a position as a lecturer at the University of California in Los Angeles in 1966. She also played a part in the play Medea in Hollywood. In this period, she was encouraged by author James Baldwin and Random House publishers to write an autobiography. Initially, Angelou declined offers, and went to California for the production of a series of ten one-hour programs that she'd written, "Black, Blues, Black," which were broadcast in 1968. But eventually Angelou changed her mind and wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The book, which chronicles Angelou's childhood and ends with the birth of her son Guy, bears what Selwyn R. Cudjoe in Black Women Writers calls a burden: "to demonstrate the manner in which the Black female is violated . . . in her tender years and to demonstrate the 'unnecessary insult' of Southern girlhood in her movement to adolescence." I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings won immediate success and a nomination for a National Book Award.
Although Angelou did not write I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings with the intention of writing other autobiographies, she eventually wrote five more, which may be read with the first as a series. Most critics have judged the subsequent autobiographies in light of the first, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings remains the most highly praised. Gather Together in My Name begins when Angelou is seventeen and a new mother; it describes a destructive love affair, Angelou's work as a prostitute, her rejection of drug addiction, and the kidnapping of her son. Gather Together in My Name was not as well received by critics as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. As Mary Jane Lupton reported in Black American Literature Forum, in this 1974 autobiography, "the tight structure" of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings "appeared to crumble; childhood experiences were replaced by episodes which a number of critics consider disjointed or bizarre." Lupton thought, however, that there is an important reason why Angelou's later works are not as tight as the first, and why they consist of episodes: these "so-called 'fragments' are reflections of the kind of chaos found in actual living. In altering the narrative structure, Angelou shifts the emphasis from herself as an isolated consciousness to herself as a black woman participating in diverse experiences among a diverse class of peoples."
Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry like Christmas is Angelou's account of her tour in Europe and Africa with Porgy and Bess. Much of the work concerns Angelou's separation from her son during that time. In The Heart of a Woman, Angelou describes her acting and writing career in New York and her work for the civil rights movement. She recalls visits with great activists Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, and the legendary singer Billie Holiday. She also tells of her move to Africa, and her experiences when her son was injured in a serious car accident; the book ends with Guy's move into a college dormitory at the University of Ghana. "Angelou's message is one blending chorus: Black people and Black women do not just endure, they triumph with a will of collective consciousness that Western experience cannot extinguish," wrote Sondra O'Neale in Black Women Writers. All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes once again explores Guy's accident; it moves on from there to recount Angelou's travels in West Africa and her decision to return, without her son, to America.
It took Angelou fifteen years to write the final volume of her autobiography, A Song Flung up to Heaven, after All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes was published. The book covers four years, from the time Angelou returned from Ghana in 1964 through the moment when she sat down at her mother's table and began to write I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1968. Angelou hesitated so long to start the book and took so long to finish it, she told Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service interviewer Sherryl Connelly, because so many painful things happened to her, and to the entire African-American community, in those four years. "I didn't know how to write it," she said. "I didn't see how the assassination of Malcolm [X], the Watts riot, the breakup of a love affair, then [the assassination of Dr.] Martin [Luther] King [Jr.], how I could get all that loose with something uplifting in it." Malcolm X's and King's assassinations were particularly painful for Angelou because in both cases the men were killed shortly after Angelou had agreed to work for them; it was, in fact, the offer of a job with Malcolm X that brought Angelou back from Africa. A Song Flung up to Heaven deals forthrightly with these events, and "the poignant beauty of Angelou's writing enhances rather than masks the candor with which she addresses the racial crisis through which America was passing," Wayne A. Holst wrote in Christian Century. But as Angelou intended, "not everything in [A Song Flung up to Heaven] is bleak," Cassandra Spratling commented in a review for Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. "Tales of parties with writers and other friends; her bond with a woman with whom her Ghanian manfriend cheated; and descriptions of her closeness with the late writer James Baldwin lighten the story."
Angelou's poetry has often been lauded more for its content—praising black beauty, the strength of women, and the human spirit; criticizing the Vietnam War; demanding social justice for all—than for its poetic virtue. Yet Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie, which was published in 1971, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1972. This volume contains thirty-eight poems, some of which were published in The Poetry of Maya Angelou. According to Carol Neubauer in Southern Women Writers, "the first twenty poems describe the whole gamut of love, from the first moment of passionate discovery to the first suspicion of painful loss." In the other poems, "Angelou turns her attention to the lives of black people in America from the time of slavery to the rebellious 1960s. Her themes deal broadly with the painful anguish suffered by blacks forced into submission, with guilt over accepting too much, and with protest and basic survival."
As Angelou wrote her autobiographies and poems, she continued her career in film and television. She was the first black woman to get a screenplay (Georgia, Georgia) produced in 1972. She was honored with a nomination for an Emmy award for her performance in Roots in 1977. In 1979, Angelou helped adapt her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, for a television movie of the same name. Angelou wrote the poetry for the 1993 film Poetic Justice and played the role of Aunt June. She also played Lelia Mae in the 1993 television film There Are No Children Here and appeared as Anna in the feature film How to Make an American Quilt in 1995. Also in 1995, Angelou's poetry helped to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations. She had elevated herself to what Richard Grenier in National Review called a "dizzying height of achievement." As a title from an article by Freda Garmaise in Gentleman's Quarterly proclaimed, "Maya-ness" was "next to godliness."
One of the most important sources of Angelou's fame in the early 1990s was President Bill Clinton's invitation to write and read the first inaugural poem in decades. Americans all across the country watched the six-foot-tall, elegantly dressed woman as she read her poem for the new president on January 20, 1993. "On the Pulse of Morning" begins "A Rock, a River, a Tree" and calls for peace, racial and religious harmony, and social justice for people of different origins, incomes, genders, and sexual orientations. It recalls the civil rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I have a dream" speech as it urges America to "Give birth again/To the Dream" of equality. Angelou challenged the new administration and all Americans to work together for progress: "Here, on the pulse of this new day,/You may have the grace to look up and out/And into your sister's eyes, and into/Your brother's face, your country/And say simply/Very simply/With hope—Good morning."
While some viewed President Clinton's selection of Angelou as a tribute to the poet and her lifelong contribution to civil rights and the arts, Angelou had her own ideas. She told Catherine S. Manegold in an interview for the New York Times: "In all my work, what I try to say is that as human beings we are more alike than we are unalike." She added, "It may be that Mr. Clinton asked me to write the inaugural poem because he understood that I am the kind of person who really does bring people together."
During the early 1990s, Angelou wrote more poetry and several books for children. Now Sheba Sings the Song is just one poem inspired by the work of artist Tom Feelings; the lines or phrases are isolated on each page with eighty-four of Tom Feelings' sepia-toned and black-and-white drawings of black women. I Shall Not Be Moved is a collection that takes its title from a line in one of the book's poems. Phenomenal Woman, a collection of four poems, takes its title from a poem which originally appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1978; the narrator of the poem describes the physical and spiritual characteristics and qualities that make her attractive.
Angelou dedicated Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, a collection of twenty-four short essays, to Oprah Winfrey, the television talk-show host who celebrated Angelou's sixty-fifth birthday with a grand party. The essays in this book contain declarations, complaints, memories, opinions, and advice on subjects ranging from faith to jealousy. Genevieve Stuttaford, writing in Publishers Weekly, described the essays as "quietly inspirational pieces." Anne Whitehouse of the New York Times Book Review observed that the book would "appeal to readers in search of clear messages with easily digested meanings." Yet not all critics appreciated this collection. Richard Grenier of National Review concluded that the book "is of a remarkably coherent tone, being from first page to last of a truly awesome emptiness."
Although Angelou's autobiographies are written, in part, for young people, they are beyond the comprehension of most young children. But with the publication of Mrs. Flowers: A Moment of Friendship, children can access one of the stories that Angelou tells in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Another book for children, Life Doesn't Frighten Me, consists of one poem. Each line or phrase is accompanied by the dynamic, abstract, colorful paintings of the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. The poem lists scary things that the narrator should be afraid of, and Basquiat's art illustrates those terrors vividly, but, with the refrain of "They don't frighten me at all," "fear is answered with dancing energy and daring imagination and laughter," Hazel Rochman explained in Booklist. "Pairing Angelou's reassuring poem with Basquiat's unsettling, childlike images was a stroke of genius," wrote Artforum International contributor Dan Cameron.
In My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me, with photographs by Margaret Courtney-Clarke, a young African girl introduces herself and discusses her life. She tells about her friend, a pet chicken to whom she tells all of her best secrets. She displays her beautiful home, and explains how her mother has carefully painted it. The girl also explains how, although she must go to school wearing uniforms her father has purchased in town, she loves to wear her traditional beads and clothing. She expresses a wish that she and the reader can be friends despite the physical and cultural distance that separates them.
Kofi and His Magic is a second picture book by Angelou and Courtney-Clark which allows young readers to get to know an African child, another culture, and another worldview. Through Angelou's text and Courtney-Clarke's colorful photographs, a West African boy named Kofi shows off his beautiful earthtoned home and tells of his life. Kofi's town, Bonwire, is famous for its Kente cloth production. He explains how, even though he is still quite young, he is a trained weaver of Kente cloth. Then, Kofi takes readers on a journey to visit other nearby towns and people, and finally, to see the ocean (which he initially thinks is a big lake). At the end of the book, after Kofi returns to Bonwire, he reveals why he calls himself a magician. Kofi's magic involves allowing the reader to imagine that she or he can visit Kofi and become his friend: the reader must only close her eyes and open her mind for the magic to work.
As Angelou has been busy furthering her career, critics and scholars have attempted to keep up with her, and to interpret her continuing work. While many critics have pointed out that the message in Angelou's prose is universal, Mary Jane Lupton has called attention to the theme of motherhood in Angelou's work. In five volumes of autobiography, Angelou "moves forward: from being a child, to being a mother; to leaving the child; to having the child, in the fifth volume, achieve his independence." In her interview with George Plimpton in the Paris Review, Angelou agreed with him that the love of her child was a "prevailing theme" in her autobiographical work.
Some critics have argued that Angelou's poetry is inferior to her prose. Unlike her autobiographical work, Angelou's poetry has not received much of what William Sylvester of Contemporary Poets would call "serious critical attention." In Sylvester's opinion, however, Angelou's poetry is "sassy." When "we hear her poetry, we listen to ourselves." In addition, as Lynn Z. Bloom pointed out in Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Angelou's poetry becomes far more interesting when she dramatizes it in her characteristically dynamic stage performances." Colorfully dressed, Angelou usually recites her poems before spellbound crowds.
Angelou takes her writing very seriously. She told Plimpton, "Once I got into it I realized I was following a tradition established by Frederick Douglass—the slave narrative—speaking in the first-person singular talking about the first-person plural, always saying I meaning 'we.' And what a responsibility. Trying to work with that form, the autobiographical mode, to change it, to make it bigger, richer, finer, and more inclusive in the twentieth century has been a great challenge for me."
While many critics have described Angelou's ability to write beautiful prose as a natural talent, Angelou has emphasized that she must work very hard to write the way she does. As she has explained to Plimpton and others, very early each morning she goes to a sparse hotel room to concentrate, to lie on the bed and write. She spends the morning on first draft work, and goes home in the afternoon to shower, cook a beautiful meal, and share it with friends. Later that night, she looks at what she's written, and begins to cut words and make revisions. Critics who suggest writing is easy for her, Angelou explained to Plimpton, "are the ones I want to grab by the throat and wrestle to the floor because it takes me forever to get it [a book] to sing. I work at the language."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Angelou, Maya, Gather Together in My Name, Random House (New York, NY), 1974.
Angelou, Maya, Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry like Christmas, Random House (New York, NY), 1976.
Angelou, Maya, The Heart of a Woman, Random House (New York, NY), 1981.
Angelou, Maya, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.
Angelou, Maya, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Bantam (New York, NY), 1993.
Angelou, Maya, Lessons in Living, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.
Angelou, Maya, Even the Stars Look Lonesome, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
Angelou, Maya, A Song Flung up to Heaven, Random House (New York, NY), 2002.
Bloom, Harold, editor, Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Chelsea House Publishers (New York, NY), 1995.
Braxton, Joanne M., editor, Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: A Casebook, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography Supplement: Modern Writers, 1900-1998, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 15, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, Book 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990.
Contemporary Poets, seventh edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Contemporary Popular Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Contemporary Women Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 38: Afro-American Writers after 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, second edition, seventeen volumes, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Evans, Mari, editor, Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, Anchor Press-Doubleday (New York, NY), 1984.
Inge, Tonette Bond, editor, Southern Women Writers: The New Generation, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1990.
King, Sarah E., Maya Angelou: Greeting the Morning, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1994.
Kirkpatrick, Patricia, compiler, Maya Angelou, Creative Education (Mankato, MN), 2003.
Lisandrelli, Elaine Slivinski, Maya Angelou: More than a Poet, Enslow Publishers (Berkeley Heights, NJ), 1996.
Literature and Its Times: Profiles of 300 Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events That Influenced Them, Volume 4: World War II to the Affluent Fifties (1940s-1950s), Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Newsmakers 1993, Issue 4, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Notable Black American Women, Book 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Poetry Criticism, Volume 32, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, five volumes, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, second edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Spain, Valerie, Meet Maya Angelou, Random House (New York, NY), 1994.
Women Filmmakers and Their Films, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Writers for Young Adults, three volumes, Scribner's (New York, NY), 1997.
Artforum International, December, 1993, Dan Cameron, review of Life Doesn't Frighten Me, p. 74.
Black American Literature Forum, summer, 1990, Mary Jane Lupton, "Singing the Black Mother: Maya Angelou and Autobiographical Continuity," pp. 257-276.
Black Issues Book Review, March, 2001, Maitefa Angaza, "Maya: A Precious Prism," p. 30; March-April, 2002, Elsie B. Washington, review of A Song Flung up to Heaven, pp. 56-57.
Book, March-April, 2002, Beth Kephart, review of A Song Flung up to Heaven, p. 72.
Booklist, January 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Life Doesn't Frighten Me, pp. 829-830; October 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me, p. 329; August, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of Even the Stars Look Lonesome, p. 1842; January 1, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of A Song Flung up to Heaven, p. 774.
Christian Century, June 19, 2002, Wayne A. Holst, review of A Song Flung up to Heaven, pp. 35-36.
Ebony, February, 1999, review of Down in the Delta, p. 96.
Essence, December, 1992, Marcia Ann Gillespie, interview with Angelou, pp. 48-52; August, 1998, Lisa Funderberg, interview with Angelou and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, pp. 70-76.
Five Owls, September, 1995, p. 2.
Gentlemen's Quarterly, July, 1995, Freda Garmaise, "Maya-ness Is Next to Godlinesss," p. 33.
Herizons, winter, 2003, Heather Marie, review of A Song Flung Up to Heaven, pp. 40-41.
Jet, December 21, 1998, review of Down in the Delta, p. 58.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2002, review of A Song Flung up to Heaven, p. 25.
Kliatt, July, 2002, Janet Julian, review of Even the Stars Look Lonesome, p. 58.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, November 5, 1997, Fon Louise Gordon, review of Even the Stars Look Lonesome, p. 1105K5928; March 14, 2002, Leigh Dyer, "Shrugging off Criticism, Angelou Relishes Getting Her Words before So Many," p. K0392; April 3, 2002, Cassandra Spratling, "Maya Angelou, Still Rising: Turbulent Times Mark the Celebrated Author's Latest Memoir," p. K7652; April 10, 2002, Sherryl Connelly, "Maya Angelou, a Life Well Chronicled," p. K2443; April 30, 2002, Lamar Wilson, review of A Song Flung up to Heaven, p. K4586.
Library Journal, October 1, 1995, p. 102; September 15, 1997, Ann Burns, review of Even the Stars Look Lonesome, p. 74; March 15, 2002, Amy Strong, review of A Song Flung up to Heaven, pp. 79-80.
Mother Jones, May-June, 1995, Ken Kelley, interview with Angelou, pp. 22-25.
National Post, July 20, 2002, Marcie Good, "Inspiration for Hire: Hallmark Has Hired Poet Maya Angelou," p. SP1.
National Review, November 29, 1993, Richard Grenier, review of Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, p. 76.
New Republic, May 20, 2002, John McWhorter, review of A Song Flung up to Heaven, p. 35.
New York Times, January 20, 1993, Catherine S. Manegold, "A Wordsmith at Her Inaugural Anvil," pp. C1, C8.
New York Times Book Review, June 16, 1974, Annie Gottlieb, review of Gather Together in My Name; December 19, 1993, Anne Whitehouse, review of Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, p. 18; June 5, 1994, p. 48.
Paris Review, fall, 1990, Maya Angelou, and George Plimpton, "The Art of Fiction CXIX: Maya Angelou," pp. 145-167.
People, January 11, 1999, review of Down in the Delta, p. 35.
Poetry, August, 1976, Sandra M. Gilbert, review of Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well.
Publishers Weekly, September 20, 1993, review of Life Doesn't Frighten Me, p. 71; September 27, 1993, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, pp. 53-54; September 12, 1994, review of My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me, p. 91; August 4, 1997, review of Even the Stars Look Lonesome, pp. 54-55.
School Library Journal, October, 1987, Joseph Harper, review of Now Sheba Sings the Song, p. 146; May, 1995, p. 57; July, 2002, Karen Sokol, review of A Song Flung up to Heaven, p. 144.
Smithsonian, April, 2003, Lucinda Moore, interview with Angelou, p. 96.
Southern Literary Journal, fall, 1998, Marion M. Tangum, "Hurston's and Angelou's Visual Art: The Distancing Vision and the Beckoning Gaze," p. 80.
Variety, September 21, 1998, Joe Leydon, review of Down in the Delta, p. 110.
Official Maya Angelou Web site,http://www.mayaangelou.com (April 24, 2004).*