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Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

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Also Known As: Marguerite Annie Johnson Died:
Born: April 4, 1928 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: St Louis, Missouri, USA Profession: playwright, poet, novelist, screenwriter, actor, producer, singer, dancer, songwriter, director, college professor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Transcendent as an actor, teacher, writer, civil rights activist and much more, African-American Renaissance woman Maya Angelou was a potent mixture of the spiritual and the earthy who inspired millions with her multifaceted career. Tall (6') and proud, with a laugh as large as her formidable presence, she possessed the innate and compelling grace of a woman who had constructed a full life, one lived without concession or false excuse. Her feet, tough and covered with calluses, testified to her years studying under Martha Graham and dancing with Alvin Ailey, and her exuberance caused her to break spontaneously into song, revealing the voice of the nightclub performer and calypso singer of her first feature film, "Calypso Heat Wave" (1957). Long one of the country's most sought-after speakers, she first gained widespread critical attention for her autobiographical "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" (1969), recounting the story of her rape at the age of eight and the five years of silence that ensued, during which she listened intensely and found the unique voice of the poet she was born to be. Upon her death on May 28, 2014, the United States and the world as a whole mourned the loss of a singular...

Transcendent as an actor, teacher, writer, civil rights activist and much more, African-American Renaissance woman Maya Angelou was a potent mixture of the spiritual and the earthy who inspired millions with her multifaceted career. Tall (6') and proud, with a laugh as large as her formidable presence, she possessed the innate and compelling grace of a woman who had constructed a full life, one lived without concession or false excuse. Her feet, tough and covered with calluses, testified to her years studying under Martha Graham and dancing with Alvin Ailey, and her exuberance caused her to break spontaneously into song, revealing the voice of the nightclub performer and calypso singer of her first feature film, "Calypso Heat Wave" (1957). Long one of the country's most sought-after speakers, she first gained widespread critical attention for her autobiographical "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" (1969), recounting the story of her rape at the age of eight and the five years of silence that ensued, during which she listened intensely and found the unique voice of the poet she was born to be. Upon her death on May 28, 2014, the United States and the world as a whole mourned the loss of a singular artistic and humanitarian vision.

Born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis and raised in the small town of Stamps, Arkansas, the young Angelou began her career as a stage performer in San Francisco and New York, adopting the name Maya Angelou from a childhood nickname and the surname of her first husband, Greek musician Tosh Angelos. Acting performances in New York productions of "Cabaret for Freedom" (1960), which Angelou also produced, and Jean Genet's "The Blacks" (1961) preceded her move to Africa. She lived first in Cairo and worked as editor of The Arab Observer (the only English-language news weekly in the Middle East) before beginning her academic career at the University of Ghana. Two of her plays, "The Least of These" and "The Clawing Within," received U.S. productions in 1966, as did "Adijoa Amissah" the following year. Her songwriting for the feature "For Love of Ivy" (1968) brought her into collaboration with producer Quincy Jones, and she later wrote the songs and screenplay for "Georgia, Georgia" (1972), the interesting but uneven story of a black singer's involvement with a white photographer in Sweden. Angelou earned a Tony nomination for her Broadway acting debut in "Look Away" (1973). After writing and directing the short "All Day Long" (1974) for the American Film Institute, she wrote and directed the musical "And Still I Rise" in 1976, later publishing a book of poetry of the same name two years later. She returned to acting as part of the all-star cast of ABC's landmark miniseries "Roots" (1977) and then helped adapt the TV-movie version of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" (CBS 1979).

Once the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian leadership at the request of Martin Luther King Jr. himself, Angelou received appointments during the 1970s to the Bicentennial Commission (from Gerald Ford) and the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year (from Jimmy Carter). During the '80s, her fame soared, primarily on the strength of her poetry, but she also wrote the screenplay for the NBC TV movie "Sister, Sister" (1982) and the premiere episode of Oprah Winfrey's short-lived drama series "Brewster Place" (ABC 1990), as well as works of prose. The 1990s saw an explosion of creativity from the prolific and eclectic Angelou. One of Bill Clinton's favorite poets, she presented the poem "On the Pulse of Morning" which she wrote especially for his inauguration as the 42nd President of the United States in 1993, increasing the demand for her deeply resonant and lilting voice. That same year she also supplied the poetry written by the character of Justice (Janet Jackson) in John Singleton's "Poetic Justice" and played Lelia Mae in the ABC TV movie "There Are No Children Here", starring Oprah Winfrey. In addition, she portrayed Alfre Woodard's mother in the female ensemble drama "How to Make an American Quilt" (1995).

Angelou made numerous appearances as herself on TV and served as a host or narrator for a variety of chidren's shows, such as "Elmo Saves Christmas" (PBS 1996). As for features, she narrated "The Journey of August King" (1995), provided music and narration for the "Perfect Moment" (1996) documentary, and wrote the screenplay for "Angelou on Burns" (1996), in which she explores her passion for the poetry (and life) of Robert Burns. As if her many accomplishments were not enough, she added to them with her feature directorial debut in 1998. Cast and crew of "Down on the Delta" marveled at her extraordinary vitality and stamina in making a solid and affecting piece of work that emphasized simple truths and intelligent optimism while placing great stock in the strength of family ties and the soul-enhancing value of returning to roots. As she entered the 21st century, Angelou remained an active presence on the lecture circuit and published two memoirs, A Song Flung Up To Heaven (2002) and Mom & Me & Mom. Maya Angelou died May 28, 2014 at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Among the many tributes that followed, President Barack Obama said, "With a kind word and a strong embrace, she had the ability to remind us that we are all God's children; that we all have something to offer."

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Down in the Delta (1998) Director

CAST: (feature film)

2.
 Good Hair (2009)
4.
 We Are Not Vanishing (2002) Interviewee
5.
 Runaway, The (2000) Conjure Woman
6.
 Perfect Moment (1997) Narration
7.
8.
 Journey of August King, The (1995) Narration
10.
 Poetic Justice (1993) Aunt June
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Moved with her parents to California as an infant
1932:
Sent with her brother to live with her paternal grandmother in Stamp, Arkansas after parents separated (date approximate)
1936:
Moved back to her mother's house in San Francisco; raped at age 7 1/2 by one of her mother's boyfriends (date approximate)
1936:
Mute for five years until an older friend back in Arkansas helped her deal with the problem (dates approximate)
:
Was a dancer with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company
:
Performed in nightclubs
1954:
Toured European and African cities in "Porgy and Bess" for US State Department
1957:
Acted off-Broadway in "Calypso Heatwave"
1957:
Feature film debut, "Calypso Heat Wave"
1960:
Produced and acted in "Cabaret for Freedom" at NYC's Village Gate
1961:
Played Queen in NYC theatrical production of Jean Genet's "The Blacks"
:
Served as Assistant Administrator of School of Music and Drama, University of Ghana; contributed to Ghanian Broadcasting Corporation during this period
:
Was feature editor of THE AFRICAN REVIEW
1966:
Two plays of hers, "The Least of These" and "The Clawing Within", received productions
1968:
Co-wrote songs for feature film, "For Love of Ivy"
1972:
Wrote the screenplay and songs for the feature film, "Georgia, Georgia"; reputedly the first produced script by an African-American woman
1972:
Received Pulitzer Prize nomination in poetry for "Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Die"
1973:
Debuted on Broadway in "Look Away", earning a Tony nomination
1974:
Directed short film "All Day Long"; also scripted
1975:
Co-hosted, with Studs Terkel, George F Will and Doris Stearns, the PBS interview series, "Assignment America"
1976:
Librettist, lyricist and composer for the musical "And Still I Rise"; directed production in Oakland, California
1977:
Played Nyo Boto on the landmark TV miniseries, "Roots" (ABC)
1979:
Co-wrote teleplay for CBS adaptation of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings"
1981:
Appointed to a lifetime posiition as the Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
1982:
Wrote the screenplay for "Sister, Sister", an NBC-TV movie
1989:
Appeared in the feature documentary "James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket"
1990:
Wrote the premiere episode of the TV drama series, "Brewster Place" (ABC)
1993:
Presented poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at the Presidential inauguration; written specifically for the event at President Bill Clinton's request
1993:
Supplied the poetry "written" by the character of Justice (Janet Jackson) in John Singleton's "Poetic Justice"; also played Aunt Jane
1993:
Acted in ABC-TV movie "There Are No Children Here", starring Oprah Winfrey
1995:
Portrayed Alfre Woodard's mother in "How to Make an American Quilt"
1996:
Wrote the screenplay for "Angelou on Burns", a documentary exploring her passion for the poetry of Robert Burns
1996:
Provided narration and music for "Perfect Moment" documentary
1998:
Feature directorial debut, "Down in the Delta"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Directing Workshop for Women, American Film Institute: Los Angeles , California -
AFI Conservatory: - 1974
Center For Advanced Film Studies, American Film Institute: - 1974

Notes

Honored with the Trumpet Award in 1993.

Angelou's participation at the Clinton inaugural was the first time a poet had taken part in the event since Robert Frost spoke at President John F Kennedy's inauguration.

She speaks French, Spanish, Italian and West African Fanti, in addition to her native English.

In 2002, Angelou debuted a line of greeting cards and trinkets produced by Hallmark.

Received the National Medal of Arts from US President Bill Clinton (2000).

Her many accolades include: the Ladies Home Journals Woman of the Year in Communications Award (1983), the North Carolina Award for Literature (1987), a Horatio Alger Award (1992), Essence's Woman of the Year Award (1994) and more than 50 honorary degrees from colleges and universities across the nation.

"My mother, who was very precious to me, died a year ago. When I was 20 I had gone over to her big house, a 14-room house, in San Francisco. I had gone over there and we had had a good afternoon, two or three hours, and we walked out of the house and down the hill. And we were at the very bottom of the hill and she knew I wouldn't take a ride from her, that I would take the streetcar, that I had to own myself. And she said, 'You know, baby, I think you are the greatest woman I have ever met.'

"I watched her, with the light, go to the other corner and I crossed to get the No 22 streetcar and I sat there and I remember everything, the color of the light, the wooden seats, and I remember thinking: 'She's very intelligent and she's too mean to lie. So just suppose she's right? Suppose I really am somebody?' And it was the first time I ever earth. I was aware at that moment of being on a ball." --Maya Angelou to The New York Times, January 20, 1993.

"The most delicious piece of knowledge for me is that I am a child of God. That is so mind-boggling, that this 'it' created everything, and I am a child of 'it.' It means I'm conected to every thing and every body.

"That's all delicious and wonderful--until I am forced to realize that the bigot, the brute, the batterer is also a child of 'it.' Now, he may not know it, bit I'm obliged to know that he is. I have to. That is my contract.

"What fascinates me is the varying ways we approach God. And shape God and paint God, make a staute of God. It amazes me. Once I went to Texas to a conference called 'Facing Evil.' At one point, some fellow from Texas got up and said, 'I really have seen evil, I have felt its force. I went to Germany and I went into the concentration camps.'

"I stood and said, 'Do you mean to tell me that we've come from all over the world and we're going to talk nonsense? You had to go to Germany, you here in Texas who refused Mexican-Americans a chance to vote, you who don't want them to even live next to you, you who have your own history of slavery--you had to go to Germany? I don't wanna hear it.

"it seems to me that if we accept--if I accept, anyway--the fact of evil, I accept the fact of good. We're all doing what Anne Sexton calls 'that awful rowing toward God.' That excites me. It gives me incredible delight to be alive, and prepares me with as little fear as possible for death. It remains that I live a very nice life, most of the time." --Maya Angelou, from an interview with Ken Kelly posted on the Internet

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Tosh Angelou. Divorced c. 1952.
husband:
Vusumzi Make. Lawyer. Divorced.
husband:
Paul De Feu. Married in 1973; divorced.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Bailey Johnson. Doorman. Separated from Angelou's mother when she was 3 1/2.
mother:
Vivian Baxter. Hotel and bar owner. Separated from Angelou's father when she was 3 1/2; died c. 1992.
brother:
Bailey Johnson Jr. Born c. 1926.
son:
Guy Johnson. Novelist. Resides in California.
grandson:
Colin Johnson. Resides in California.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" Random House
"Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die" Random House
"Gather Together in My Name" Random House
"Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well" Random House
"Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas" Random House
"And Still I Rise" Random House
"The Heart of a Woman" Random House
"Shaker, Why Don't You Sing?"
"All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes" Random House
"Now Sheba Sings the Song" Dutton
"I Shall Not Be Moved" Random House
"Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now"
"On the Pulse of Morning" Random House
"My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me"
"The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou"
"Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women" Random House
"A Brave and Startling Truth" Random House
"Even the Stars Look Lonesome" Random House
"A Song Flung Up to Heaven"
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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