....to JusticeGhana Group

 Welcome to JusticeGhana

JusticeGhana is a Non-Governmental [and-not-for- profit] Organization (NGO) with a strong belief in Justice, Security and Progress....” More Details

Maya Angelou - obituary


 Maya Angelou speaking during a ceremony to honour Desmond Tutu in 2008 Photo: REUTERSMaya Angelou - obituary

Maya Angelou was a black American author whose chronicle of her dirt-poor upbringing became a literary sensation

Maya Angelou, who has died aged 86, was a poet, playwright, film-maker, journalist, editor, lyricist, teacher, singer, dancer, black activist, professor and holder of some 50 honorary degrees; she was principally famous, however, for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a memoir of her dirt-poor upbringing in Arkansas.

When the book was published in 1969 it was a revelation. Narrated in the pulpit-influenced cadences of the black American South, it described a world completely alien to its mainly white, metropolitan readership.

It told how, after her parents divorced, Maya’s father sent her and her elder brother, Bailey, from their home in St Louis to live with their paternal grandmother in the small town of Stamps, Arkansas. Aged three and four, the two children arrived at the station wearing wrist tags reading: “To Whom It May Concern”.

During a brief return to St Louis to live with their mother, at the age of seven Maya was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Soon after she had identified him as the rapist in court, he was murdered — kicked to death — by some of her uncles. For the next five years the young Maya became a voluntary mute, believing that her voice had killed him and that if she spoke again she might kill someone else.

Coaxed out of silence by a teacher who encouraged her love of reading with Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Dickens, Poe and the Brontes, as well as black writers such as Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Langston Hughes, she eventually joined her mother in California, won a scholarship to study drama and dance, and at the age of 17 became an unmarried mother.

Freshly and vividly written, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings became the first non-fiction work by a black woman to make the US national bestseller lists. Other volumes of autobiography followed, charting Maya Angelou’s career as a waitress, brothel madam, prostitute, singer, bus conductress, actress and black activist; as a dancer in Paris; an editor in Egypt; and a journalist and university administrator in Ghana.

As a woman and as a black American who had surmounted oppression to live the American Dream, Maya Angelou became a symbol for the post-segregation era, and a celebrity on the lecture circuit who drew huge crowds wherever she went. Her name appeared on everything from bookends to pillows and mugs, and her rhymes on Hallmark greetings cards. In 1993 she was chosen by President Clinton to recite her poem On the Pulse of the Morning at his inauguration.

Yet nothing ever equalled her first book. As she became more and more famous, her memoirs became increasingly self-congratulatory in tone; and critics noted that she had adopted all the clichés of her friend Oprah Winfrey’s aspirational narrative of “healing” and “empowerment”. The “diva”, one reviewer observed, had “come to believe her own hype”.

She was born Marguerite Ann Johnson (Maya was her brother Bailey’s diminutive) in St Louis, Missouri, on April 4 1928. Her father was a doorman and US Navy dietitian, her mother a nurse and card dealer.

After living with their grandmother in Arkansas, Maya and her brother returned to live, in Oakland, California, with their mother, a tiny, forthright woman with a colourful turn of phrase (“I’d rather be bitten on the rear by a snaggle-toothed mule than take that shit” was one of her sayings). During the Second World War, Maya attended George Washington High School in Oakland and studied dance and drama at the California Labor School. Before leaving school, she worked as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.

Her son Guy, born in California when she was 17, was the result of her first sexual experiment, prompted by a desire to clarify her sexuality after she had convinced herself, from reading The Well of Loneliness, that she was becoming a lesbian. Her second book of memoirs, Gather Together in My Name (1974), described her life as an unemployed single mother in California, embarking on brief affairs and transient jobs, before she descended into poverty and the fringes of crime and prostitution.

In Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (1976) she described her brief marriage to “Tosh” (Enistasious Angelos), a jazz-loving white man of Greek descent. After the marriage ended in 1954 she continued to dance and sing calypso professionally, touring in Porgy and Bess and changing her stage name from Marguerite Johnson to Maya Angelou. In 1957 she recorded an album, Miss Calypso, and appeared in an off-Broadway revue that inspired the film Calypso Heat Wave (1957), in which she sang and performed her own compositions.

In 1959 Maya Angelou met the novelist James Killens, who suggested she move to New York to concentrate on her writing career. In The Heart of a Woman (1981) she described her immersion in the Harlem world of black writers and artists, and her work with Martin Luther King (she and Killens organised the Cabaret for Freedom in aid of his Southern Christian Leadership Conference). She also described her relationship with the South African rights activist Vusumzi Make — a man, by her account, of unlimited sex appeal who tried, but failed, to possess her, body and soul, and with whom she moved to Cairo, where she became the associate editor of the English-language Arab Observer.

All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986) charted her three-year stay in Accra, Ghana, after the break-up of her relationship with Make. She was an administrator at the University of Ghana, and was active in the African-American expatriate community, becoming a features editor for The African Review and a freelance writer, broadcaster and actress.

In A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002), the sixth episode of the Angelou saga, she recounted her return to America; her attempts to help Malcolm X build a new civil rights organisation, the Organisation of Afro-American Unity ; her devastation after his assassination; her return to life as a nightclub chanteuse in Hawaii; and her decision to write her first memoir.

Source: The Telegraph UK



 1000 Characters left

Antispam Refresh image Case sensitive

JusticeGhana Group *All Rights Reserved © 2007-2013*Privacy Policy