Modern Black American Fiction Writers

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview
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Maya Angelou
b. 1928

MAYA ANGELOU was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928. Her life has been both remarkably varied and occasionally grim (she was raped at the age of eight by her mother's boyfriend), and she has won greater critical acclaim for her several autobiographical volumes than for her poetry and drama. She attended public schools in Arkansas and California, studied music privately, and studied dance with Martha Graham.In 1954-55 she was a member of the cast of Porgy and Bess, which went on a twenty-two-nation world tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.Some of her songs were recorded on the album Miss Calypso ( 1957). Later she acted in several off-Broadway plays, including one, the musical Cabaret for Freedom ( 1960), that she wrote with Godfrey Cambridge.

In addition to these artistic pursuits, Angelou held a variety of odd jobs in her late teens and early twenties, including streetcar conductor, Creole cook, nightclub waitress, prostitute, and madam. She has been married twice: first, around 1950, to a white man, Tosh Angelos (whose surname she adapted when she became a dancer), and then, from 1973 to 1981, to Paul Du Feu.She bore a son, Guy, at the age of sixteen.

When she was thirty Angelou moved to Brooklyn.There she met John Oliver Killens, James Baldwin, and other writers who encouraged her to write. While practicing her craft, however, she became involved in the civil rights movement. She met Martin Luther King, Jr., was appointed the northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and organized demonstrations at the United Nations.She fell in love with the South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make, and they left for Egypt, where in 1961-62 Angelou worked as associate editor of the Arab Observer, an English-language newspaper in Cairo.She broke up with Make when he criticized her independence and lack of subservience to him.

In 1963 Angelou went to Ghana to be assistant administrator of the School of Music and Drama at the University of Ghana's Institute of African Studies.In the three years she was there she acted in several additional


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