Maya Angelou born Marguerite Ann Johnson; (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014) was an American author and poet, who is best known for her seven autobiographies, based on her incredible life experiences. Her books focus on themes such as racism, identity, family, and travel. Added to this list are several books of exemplary poetry and plays.
When I read her biography, I was dumbstruck by how much she has achieved in a single lifetime with all the odds stacked against her. She was an African American woman, a single mother with two known marriages. (One inter-racial) In addition she had no spectacular college degree or wealth to speak of. Yet in her lifetime she was honored with over 30 honorary college degrees besides winning the Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her life was filled with rich experiences, a painful and difficult childhood and words that emerged from her pain were poignant, because they surfaced from her core, her spirit. She didn’t stop at writing, she was also actively involved with the Civil Rights Movement both with King and Malcolm X. She had the honor of speaking both at Bill Clinton’s inauguration and more recently at the historic Obama inauguration.
One record of her past touched me deeply. At the age of eight, while living with her mother, Angelou was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend, a man named Freeman. She confided in her brother, who told the rest of their family. Freeman was found guilty but was jailed for only one day. Four days after his release, he was murdered, probably by Angelou’s uncles Angelou became mute for almost five years, believing that it was her voice that killed him. In the silence that enveloped her, Maya developed her love for the written word and the ability to dissect human emotion and drama at a cellular level. Maya Angelou often checked into a hotel and wrote her stories on legal pads. No computers and no typewriters!!
Maya Angelou represents the quintessence of African American writing and her absence will be felt in the literary community. Her legacy is not merely one of literary achievements, it represents hope, to achieve an impossible dream, motivation to maximize ones hidden potential and inspiration to break out of imaginary boundaries and conquer uncharted territories.