was born Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, to
Bailey and Vivian Johnson. At the age of three, she and her older brother,
Bailey, Jr., were sent to live with their paternal grandmother in Stamps,
Arkansas after their parentsí divorce.
Angelouís grandmother, Annie Anderson, worked in a convenience
store to support the family. When Angelou was seven, she went to visit her
mother in Missouri. There, she was raped by her motherís boyfriend, who
was later convicted and sent to prison for the crime. In prison, he was
kicked to death. Angelou blamed herself for his death and refused to speak
for five years as a result of the guilt. She was ostracized by others who
couldnít understand her willful silence. With the help of her
grandmother and friend, Bertha Flowers, she gradually lifted herself out
of the gloom that kept her mute for so long.
overcoming her depression, Angelou was able to excel in school. She and
her brother went to live with their mother in San Francisco shortly after
her graduation from the eighth grade. Angelou attended George Washington
High School, while taking dance and drama lessons at the California Labor
School. While staying at her fatherís house, she had a dispute with his
girlfriend, and ran away. She lived on the streets for a month before
returning to San Francisco. With much persistence, she was able to get a
job as a streetcar conductor. At the age of sixteen, Angelou gave birth to her son, Guy.
Although unplanned, her child became her motivation for pursuing an
education. Supporting her son was difficult because of racial and
political oppression making jobs scarce for Blacks. The jobs she was able
to get involved cooking, waitressing and operating a lesbian escort
service. Before long, Angelou was taking drugs, but stopped once she
realized their effect on her brother. She married, Tosh Angelos, a former
sailor, when she was twenty-two.
three years later, she left her husband to pursue dancing.
Angelou moved to New York, where she later began to study under
Pearl Primus. Angelouís success grew from her casting in Porgy
and Bess, which toured in Africa and Europe. Upon returning to
America, she co-wrote Caberet for Freedom, with Godfrey Cambridge, at a fund-raiser for
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Angelou served as the
northern coordinator for the SCLC for a year.
Angelou made an appearance in the off-Broadway production of The
Blacks, before moving to Africa with her son and boyfriend Vusumzi
Make. After an altercation, she left Make and moved to Ghana with her son.
There, she taught at the University of Ghana, and worked as a journalist.
She returned to America in 1966. Angelouís bestseller, I
Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, was published in 1970. In 1971, she
became the first Black woman to with an original screenplay produced when Georgia,
Georgia was made into a film. In the same year, Angelou was nominated
for the Pulitzer Prize for her poem, Just
Give Me a Cool Drink of Water Ďfore I Diiie. In 1973, she was
nominated for a Tony award for her Broadway performance in Look Away. She married
artist Paul de Feu the same year.
Angelouís autobiographical works include: Get Together in My Name (1974), Singiní and Swinginí and Gettiní Merry Like Christmas (1976), The Heart of a Woman (1981), and All Godís Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986). She earned an Emmy nomination for her performance in the miniseries, Roots, in 1977. Angelou moved back to the South in 1981, after she and de Feu were divorced. In Winston- Salem, North Carolina, she accepted a lifetime position as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.
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