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Maya Angelou – From Rape to Mute to Distinction

Penciled and put together by: Rouquia Alami

 

Frankly speaking I never heard the name Maya Angelou until I was googling for quotes related to freedom. Her freedom quotes were not only as many but also were so moving. 

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song” 

Curiosity directed me to find out the woman behind those expressive free and free me quotes.

Sings of freedom Still I Rise:

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may tread me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops.

Weakened by my soulful cries.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Poetry “I rise” marks an unusual rebellion within Angelou. It is a call for liberation of slaves and having a dream towards a world full of freedom. “I RISE”.

But according to Mohammed Swidan an English literature alumnus and a United Nations’ certified translator he thinks that the poetry I Rise: “Is not only against slavery, but it’s also abundant with feminism. It presents an astonishing challenge to the adversary, “Beware, I’m there”.

 

Who is she?

Maya Angelou an inspirational and influential woman: Behind this power and dignity and talent two women left their mark on her character,her grandmother; Annie Henderson and her mother; Vivian Baxter.

Maya Angelou best known for her story “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was published in 1970 a framework of her early life which takes back a young African American woman’s discovery of her self-confidence.

The title of her poetry “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”; puzzled me! How can a caged bird sing? Since singing makes creatures happy and how “a caged person could be”?

The poem reads:

But a bird that stalks

Down his narrow cage

Can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and

his feet are tied

So he opens his throat to sing.

This implies to all prisoners of word and opinion; despite being behind walls they still speak up by writing, painting and singing towards freedom.

Angelou African American was a true talent; she began her career life as a dancer and singer of calypso music in clubs around San Francisco. She later toured Europe as an opera singer and was gifted to learn several languages during those tours.

Poet, memoirist, educator, dramatist, historian, actress and an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement,  television writer – producer, screenplays writer, actress Angelou appeared in a supporting role in the television mini-series Roots.

In addition, fanatical in art of autobiography, a lecturer, journalist, freedom fighter; against racial discrimination spokesperson for blacks and womenI’m a black ocean” she said.

 

Childhood

Maya Angelou was born as Marguerite Johnson on April 4th, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri and raised in Stamps, Arkansas.  Later on her brother, Bailey Jr., gave her the nickname “Maya”.

Maya lead a very unusual life: when she was three and her brother four after their parents’ divorce, their father sent them alone by train to live with their paternal grandmother Annie Henderson. Maya had principals, love and respect while exhibiting examples of independence and courage, Maya absorbed immovable faith and values.

Annie Henderson was running a business of selling hot meals to serving both whites and blacks workers and eventually built the Johnson Grocery store.

Adding another tragedy in her life four years later, the children’s father returned them to their mother’s care in St. Louis without warning. At the age of eight, Maya was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend, a man named Freeman. 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, wordless the eight-year-old girl felt guilty and believed that her voice had caused the death of the rapist. According to critiques, during this period of silence Maya developed her extraordinary memory, her love for books and literature and the ability to be a good listener.

When Angelou was 14, she and her brother moved in with their mother once again, who had since moved to Oakland, California. During World War II, Angelou attended the California Labor School. Before graduating, she worked as the first black female street car conductor in San Francisco.

Maya returned to high school, but became pregnant and graduated a few weeks before giving birth to her son, Guy. She left home to bring up her son as a single mother working as a waitress and cook. Teacher Bertha Flowers helped Maya to talk again and encouraged her interest in literature.

 

Marriages

At the age of twenty-one, Maya married Tosh Angelos a Greek sailor and inspiring musician.

Before they divorced in 1952, she created her professional name by combining a variation of her husband surname Angelo with her brother’s nickname for her, Maya.Eventually, she legally changed her name to Maya Angelou.

In 1973, Angelou married Paul du Feu, a Welsh writer and cartoonist who was previously married to activist and author Germaine Greer. She and du Feu divorced in 1980.

Throughout her life she got married and had relations too many times but according to critiques Angelo never liked to mention the number of marriages and affairs she had with men because she did not want anyone to think that she was a flirt and a playful woman.

Angelou had one son only named Guy. Beyond that and despite her active and busy life Maya expressed the loneliness within her heart.

In a poetry entitled “Alone” she wrote:

Lying, thinking

Last night

How to find my soul a home

Where water is not thirsty

And bread loaf is not stone

I came up with one thing

And I don’t believe I’m wrong

That nobody

But nobody

Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone

 

Letter to My Daughter

Dedicated to the daughter she never had but sees all around her, “Letter to my Daughter” Maya Angelou writes from the heart to millions of women. Angelou thanks several women on her dedication page, which is divided into three groups: The first group of five women, which includes her grandmother Annie Henderson and her mother Vivian Baxter, she calls “…some women who mothered me through dark and bright days”.

The second group has only one name, Dr. Dorothy Height, “…one woman who allows me to be a daughter to her, even today”.

The final group is the largest, made up of 12 women, whom she calls “women not born to me but who allow me to mother them”. The group includes Opera Winfrey, Gayle King, her niece Rosa Johnson Butler, her assistant Lydia Stuckey, and gospel singer Valerie Simpson.

 

Marking Women’s Household

Maya supported in her writings and publications the role of women as politicians, activists, actress, her mother and grandmother duties and obligations, but the utmost the housewife daily task, Maya summed up all those daily passages of those, she recites in her poetry “Women Work”:

I’ve got the children to tend

The clothes to mend

The floor to mop

The food to shop

Then the chicken to fry

The baby to dry

I got company to feed

The garden to weed

I’ve got shirts to press

The tots to dress

The can to be cut

I gotta clean up this hut

Then see about the sick

And the cotton to pick.

 

Mom & Me & Mom

The story of Maya Angelou’s extraordinary life has been chronicled in her multiple bestselling autobiographies. But now, at last, the legendary author shares the deepest personal story of her life; her relationship with her mother.

For the first time, Angelou reveals the triumphs and struggles of being the daughter of Vivian Baxter, an indomitable spirit whose petite size belied her larger-than-life presence—a presence absent during much of Angelou’s early life. The subsequent feelings of abandonment stayed with Angelou for years, since she and her brother were sent to their grandmother by their father. But their reunion, a decade later, began a story that has never before been told. In Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou dramatizes her years reconciling with the mother she preferred to simply call “Lady,” revealing the profound moments that shifted the balance of love and respect between them.

 

Death

Struggling for black women and against slavery Maya’s Angelou pen and feelings were active till the last minute of her life despite the weakness and pain. According to her son Guy Johnson he said during her memorial service; “that despite being in constant pain due to her dancing career and respiratory failure, my mother wrote four books during the last ten years of her life”.  He added, “She left this mortal plane with no loss of acuity and no loss in comprehension”.

Maya Angelou’s died at the age of 86 on 6 May 28, 2014

Tributes to Angelou and condolences were paid by artists, entertainers, and world leaders, including Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, whose sister was named after Angelou.

Harold Augenbraum, from the National Book Foundation, said that Angelou’s “legacy is one that all writers and readers across the World can admire and aspire. Oprah Winfrey stated: “She was there for me always, guiding me through some of the most important years of my life. The World knows her as a poet but at the heart of her, she was a teacher. ‘When you learn, teach. When you get, give’ is one of my best lessons from her”.

 

To me Maya left this world with hundreds of genuine noticeable talents which were transcribed into books, paints, dances, singing and human rights philosophy towards liberation and freedom.

She attracted me with her beautiful photos: photos that reflected her resilient character.

Too many impressive situations one could remember among,despite that she never had a university degree but hundreds of honorary doctorates but still she was insisting to be designated as “DR.”

That is why I chose her as an inspiring woman indeed.

 

 

References, mentions and quotes:
Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die (1971)Support with women
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=1085
Johnson Family Archives
Maya Angelou
Mom & Me & Mom
I rise
Alone
Women work http://allpoetry.com/Woman-Work
New YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
http://www.poemhunter.com/maya-angelou/
http://www.mayaangelou.com/
Heart of woman mind of writer and a sour of a poet lyman Hage
DrMayaAngelou
Biographies & Memoirs, Poetry
Maya Angelou African American author, poet, and playwright
Caged Bird Legacy, LLC
Goodreads Wikipedia
Maya Angelou Timeline
http://www.notablebiographies.com/An-Ba/Angelou-Maya.html
Kite, L. Patricia. Maya Angelou. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1999.
Loos, Pamela. Maya Angelou. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2000.
Shapiro, Miles. Maya Angelou. New York: Chelsea House, 1994.
http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=1085
http://www.mayaangelou.com/biography/
Bibliography
Wikipedia
AUTOBIOGRAPHY
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/maya-angelou

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