An award-winning author, the first female poet to perform at a presidential inauguration, and the first black female cable car conductor in SF.
Born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, she moved several times in her childhood. Her most influential time was in Stamps, Arkansas with her grandmother, whom she thought was the god but kept it as a secret. The death of the grandmother gave her the courage to live life to the fullest.
She gave birth to her only son as she finished high school at 17, and raised him alone, while working in a range of jobs, as a dancer in night clubs and a cook. Attracted by the uniforms, she overcame racial barriers, and in 1944 became the first black female cable car conductor of San Francisco.
Angelou has developed a dynamic career as a singer, dancer (even trained with Martha Graham) and actress, touring Europe at the age of 27, editing a magazine in Egypt at 33, and teaching in Ghana at 35.
It is only at 40 that she wrote her first book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, that included the description of being raped in childhood. The book became both popular and controversial, selling more than a million copies and translated into 17 languages. It was followed by more than 30 books, including six more volumes of her autobiography, poetry, cookbooks, and children’s books.
She continued her diverse career as an actor, director, educator, and essayist, and also became a dominant political voice for the civil rights movement, working with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. In her lifetime she was awarded more than 50 honorary degrees.
“I’m a woman
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- She was the first black woman writer whose original screenplay was produced into a film in the US – “Georgia, Georgia” (1972).
- Her professional name is based on an adaptation of her brother’s nickname for her and her first husband’s surname.
- Oprah Winfrey refers to her as her “mentor-mother-sister-friend”.
- In addition to English, she spoke French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, and Fanti.
- She said that 72 is the best age and that women are the most beautiful in their 50s.
- In 2002 she agreed to let her poetry be used in a series of Hallmark greeting cards.