Born as Marguerite Johnson to Vivian Baxter and Bailey Johnson, and two-year-old brother Bailey. Bailey nicknames his sister Maya. The Johnsons split up when Maya is three, sending their two children to live in Stamps, Arkansas with their paternal grandmother Annie Henderson. During a visit to her mother in St. Louis at age seven, Maya is raped by her mother’s boyfriend. After Maya testifies against him and he is killed by a mob, Maya becomes selectively mute for the next five years. At age 13 Maya’s grandmother takes her and Bailey to live with their mother in California.
In an exclusive interview with Lucinda Moore, Angelou describes her relationship with her mother:
Well, my mom was a terrible parent of young children. And thank God—I thank God every time I think of it—I was sent to my paternal grandmother. Ah, but my mother was a great parent of a young adult.
Angelou gives birth to a boy out of wedlock. She names him Clyde but later nicknames him Guy. Maya works as a cook and waitress to support herself and her son. In an essay in The Guardian she writes:
My mother never made me feel as if I brought scandal to the family. The baby had not been planned and I would have to rethink plans about education, but to Vivian Baxter that was life being life. Having a baby while I was unmarried had not been wrong. It was simply slightly inconvenient.
In an interview with The Smithsonian magazine she says:
We had a tiny little place to live. My mother had a 14-room house and someone to look after things. She owned a hotel, lots of diamonds. I wouldn’t accept anything from her. But once a month she’d cook for me. And I would go to her house and she’d be dressed beautifully.
Maya Johnson marries a Greek sailor named Enistasious Tosh Angelos. The marriage is short-lived, and Maya moves on to become a nightclub singer – using her ex-husband’s last name to create her stage name, Maya Angelou.
Angelou divorces her first husband due to religious differences. Angelou is very religious, while her husband is an atheist, and he forbids her to attend church.
Angelou gets a role in the Broadway show Porgy and Bess.
I was offered a role in a Broadway play called “House and Flowers.” So I went to New York to audition for it. And while I was there, “Porgy and Bess” called me and asked, would I like to join them in Portland, Maine, and then go overseas. And I said yes. The producers of House and Flowers asked me, are you crazy? You’re going to take a minimal role in a play going on the road when we’re offering you a principle role for a Broadway play? I said, I’m going to Europe. I’m going to get a chance to see places I ordinarily would never see, I only dreamed of in the little village in Arkansas in which I grew up.
Recorded by Scamp Records in November, 1956 and released in 1957, this is Angelou’s first and only music album.
I was asked to make the album, I was invited, and then I was told I had to write some of the songs, and if I didn’t I couldn’t make the album. So I wrote, I think six of them….I wrote the songs and sang them and did the whole album in a week. I love calypso the way I love blues and country-western music because with calypso the lyrics tell stories. They are not just about “I love you baby” and “let’s make love”…something rawer than that. So the calypsos, each one, tell a story, and such a human story. So that’s what drew me to it.
Produced by Sam Katzman and directed by Fred Sears, this musical film stars Angelou’s performing the song Run Joe. Angelou is 29 years old at the time, and is hired for the film due to her experience on stage as both an actress and singer.
Angelou marries Vusumzi Make. They move to Cairo Egypt where Angelou works as a writer and teacher, and as the editor of The Arab Observer. Make is a South African civil rights activist and lawyer. On her first encounter with him, she writes in her book The Heart of a Woman:
His accent was delicious. A result of British deliberateness changed by the rhythm of an African tongue and the grace of African lips. I moved away after smiling, needing to sit apart and collect myself. I had not met such a man. He was intense and contained. His movements were economical and delicate. And he didn’t seem to know that he was decidedly overweight. He was a warrior, sure of his enemies and secure with his armament.
Angelou moves to Ghana with her son Guy, leaving Make behind in Egypt and thus ending their marriage. Angelou and her son become members of the expatriate African American community that includes scholar and activist W. E. B. Du Bois, writer William Gardner Smith, lawyer Pauli Murray, journalist Julian Mayfield, and sociologist St. Clair Drake.
Anglou’s first autobiographical work is published by Random House. The text covers details of her early life from age three to sixteen. Angelou writes in the first person about her memories of growing up in Stamps, Arkansas and then in California. She tells George Plimpton of the Paris Review:
I thought I was going to write Caged Bird and that would be it and I would go back to playwriting and writing scripts for television. Autobiography is awfully seductive; it’s wonderful. 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.
Random House publishes Angelou’s first collection of poetry. The volume contains 32 poems dealing with race, poverty, and social class, among other topics.
Angelou marries former Welsh carpenter Paul De Feu, seven years her junior. She and Guy move to California with De Feu. Regarding the decision to wed, Maya says it was her husband’s idea:
He said that if I were British or he black he’d be agreeable to merely live together. But with the difference in cultures, he wanted to make a public statement. So we married.
Angelou’s second autobiographical work continues where I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings left off. The narrative, published by Random House, describes Angelou’s life between the ages of 16 and 19.
I wrote about my experiences because I thought too many people tell young folks, “I never did anything wrong. Who, Moi? – never I. I have no skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have no closet.” They lie like that and then young people find themselves in situations and they think, “Damn I must be a pretty bad guy. My mom or dad never did anything wrong.” They can’t forgive themselves and go on with their lives. So I wrote the book…. Meaning that all those grown people, all those adults, all those parents and grandparents and teachers and preachers and rabbis and priests who lie to the children can gather together in my name and I will tell them the truth. Wherever you are, you have got to admit it and set about to make a change….It’s the most painful book I’ve ever written.
Random House publishes Angelou’s second collection of poetry. The volume contains 36 poems dealing with love, and memory, and song, among other topics.
Angelou’s third autobiographical work, published by Random House, covers the events in her life from 1949 to 1955. Angelou becomes a mother, enters the world of singing and acting, and goes on a world tour with the Broadway show Porgy and Bess. In a 1983 interview, Angelou explains the source of the book’s title:
…from a time in the twenties and thirties when black people used to have rent parties.
On Saturday night from around nine when they’d give these parties, through the next morning when they would go to church and have the Sunday meal, until early Sunday evening was the time when everyone was encouraged to sing and swing and get merry like Christmas so one would have some fuel with which to live the rest of the week.
Random House publishes Angelou’s third collection of poetry. The volume contains 32 poems dealing with overcoming obstacles and discouragement in life.
Angelou and De Feu part amicably, after failing to find a home in California that suited them both and their marriage. Angelou writes about their marriage and divorce in a published essay, A House Can Hurt, a Home Can Heal:
I gave my ex-husband the Bay Area–I gave him San Francisco and Oakland and the hills and the bays and the bridges, and all that beauty. And I moved to North Carolina. I thought I’d find a small, neat little bungalow and I’d step into it and pull its beautiful walls around my shoulders. I thought that was very poetic, and that way I would just sort of muddle through the rest of my life.
Angelou’s fourth autobiographical work, published by Random house, describes her interactions with Martin Luther King, Malcom X, and Billie Holiday. She also writes about her marriage to an African activist, and raising her teenage son. The title of the book is inspired by a poem with the same name, written by Georgia Douglas Johnson.
Random House publishes Angelou’s fourth collection of poetry. The volume contains 28 poems dealing with partying and singing as celebration of life, among other topics.
Published by Random House, this book is the fifth in a series of autobiographical works. Angelou relates her experiences living in Ghana. Angelou explains the source of the book’s title:
I never agreed, even as a young person, with the Thomas Wolfe title You Can’t Go Home Again. Instinctively I didn’t. But the truth is, you can never leave home. You take it with you; it’s under your fingernails; it’s in the hair follicles; it’s in the way you smile; it’s in the ride of your hips, in the passage of your breasts; it’s all there, no matter where you go. You can take on the affectations and the postures of other places and even learn to speak their ways. But the truth is, home is between your teeth.
Random House publishes an anthology of Angelou’s poetry. The volume contains poems from all of her first four books of poetry.
Plume Books publishes a work containing 84 sepia and black and white sketches of women of color, created by artist Tom Feelings, and an accompanying poem by Angelou commissioned especially for the book. Feelings says:
I tried to capture a sense of the primal importance of black women, fueled by my growing awareness of their strength and beauty, so undervalued in the world.
Random House publishes Angelou’s fifth collection of poetry, with 32 new poems about hard work and the struggles of African Americans, among other topics. On the meaning behind the title of the work:
I believe that every human being has within herself, within himself, a moral standard, a private place that should be invited, the place you go when you reach for that last breath and can’t get it, and you meet your maker, that place from which you should never be swayed or persuaded. It is a moral standard. And everybody should say, `I shall not be moved from this place.’ That is to say, `I will not even live at any cost.
Angelou recites her poem On the Pulse of Morning at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration ceremony, becoming the second poet ever and the first woman and black person to read a poem at any presidential inauguration in American history.
Written by Angelou and illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat, this poem for young children is published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang.
…for all children who whistle in the dark and who refuse to admit that they’re frightened out of their wits
Angelou wins the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Or Non-Musical Album for On The Pulse Of Morning.
Angelou wins a Grammy for the audio production of her poem, under the category of Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Album.
Angelou gives an interview on The Arsenio Hall Show. They talk about her friendship with Martin Luther King Jr. and her fight for injustice.
I kept wondering but why me I’m a nice person. Why do people get up when I sit down on buses or streetcars or something.
Random House publishes a reprint of the 1986 collection called Poems, with poems from I Shall Not be Moved and the presidential inauguration poem – On the Pulse of Morning – also included.
In this children’s book published by Crown, written by Angelou and including photographs by Margeret Courtney-Clark, young children learn about the life and culture of an eight-year-old Ndebele girl from a South African village.
Four of Angelou’s most famous poems are published as Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women by Random House together in one volume. She says about the title poem:
I wrote it for black women, and white women, and Chinese women, and Japanese women, and Jewish women. I wrote it for Native American women, Aleut, Eskimo ladies. I wrote it for all women. Very fat women, very thin, pretty, plain. Now, I know men are phenomenal, but they have to write their own poem.
Angelou wins a Grammy for the audio production of her poem, under the category of Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Album.
Angelou reads her poem, A Brave and Startling Truth, at the San Francisco event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. The poem was commissioned especially for the event.
Random House publishes a hardcover issue of the poem Angelou read at the United Nations 50th anniversary event.
Angelou wins the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Or Non-Musical Album for Phenomenal Woman.
In this children’s book published by Clarkson Potter, written by Angelou and including photographs by Margeret Courtney-Clark, young children read about a young boy in Ghana who uses special mental powers to move his family’s home.
Angelou talks about the impact of her book, Caged Bird:
Because of the rape. And yet I just read someplace that after a woman had read Caged Bird, she realized she wasn’t alone. I think in some cases Caged Bird has saved some lives—not just the quality of life, which is very important, but life itself. I get letters from young women and men, and I am able to say to them, “You can survive rape. You never forget it—don’t even think that. But you can survive it and go on.
Published by Random House, this book is the sixth in a series of autobiographical works. In this work, Angelou begins by describing her involvement in the American Civil Rights movement after returning from Ghana, and ends with her withdrawal public activity and a decision to begin writing I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She explains:
It was a very difficult book to write. In all my work, I try to say – you may be given a load of sour lemons, why not try to make a dozen lemon meringue pies? But I didn’t see how I could do that with this book, dealing with Malcolm’s murder, Martin’s murder, the uprising in Watts, the end of a love affair- marriage-cum-something. It took me six years to write this book, and it’s the slimmest of all the volumes.
Angelou wins a Grammy for the audio production of her autobiographic work, under the category of Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Album.
Angelou wins the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for A Song Flung Up To Heaven.
Published by Random House, this is one in the Maya’s World series of four books for preschool children, written by Angelou and illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell. Main character Renee visits the Eiffel Tower.
Published by Random House, this is one in the Maya’s World series of four books for preschool children, written by Angelou and illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell. Main character Mikale’s uncle and pet fish teach him about responsibility.
Published by Random House, this is one in the Maya’s World series of four books called for preschool children, written by Angelou and illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell. Main character Itak cares for reindeer, as well as his younger brother.
Published by Random House, this is one in the Maya’s World series of four books for preschool children, written by Angelou and illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell. Main character Anglina thinks the Tower of Pisa is made of pizzas.
Random House publishes Angelou’s first cook book, Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes, in which she adds significance to each recipe by relating stories about her life experiences.
…people all over the world use food as a device. I mean, of course, we use it because our bodies need it as fuel. But we also use it to flirt, to seek a job, to seek not just employment, but raises. We use it to prepare a climate for reconciliation. We can use food to tell a person you’re not very important to me.
An anthology of all five of Angelou’s autobiographies are published in one volume.
Initially written for – and read by Angelou at – the lighting of the National Christmas Tree ceremony at the White House, the poem is subsequently published by Random House.
Published by Random House, this collection of poems includes poetry written for relatives, as well as poems composed to mark specific public events.
Published by Random House in a 32 page, hard cover volume, this poem is written not only to Angelou’s mother, but to all mothers and fathers everywhere.
I think of myself as mother. I think of men as mother — some men. My son has mothered his son, fathered his son. I don’t think you have to be a woman to mother.
Published by Sterling, this book contains twenty-five poems for children, written by Angelou and illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue. Angelou reveals what inspired her to write “Harlem Hopscotch”, one of the poems in the book:
Years ago I saw some children jumping hopscotch in Harlem. And then later, I was in Stockholm taking a course in cinematography, and I saw some Swedish children skipping hopscotch—I think it’s called “hoppa hage” there. And I thought, “Hmmm, those kids at home, they have a little more rhythm and they think different thoughts.” So I went back to watch the children in Harlem to get their rhythm, and then I began to write this poem.