Maya Angelou: From Creole Cook to Presidential Poet

By Unmacht, Eric | The Christian Science Monitor, August 17, 1999 | Go to article overview

Maya Angelou: From Creole Cook to Presidential Poet


Unmacht, Eric, The Christian Science Monitor


Many Americans who think of Maya Angelou, think of the six-foot- tall, African-American woman who read her poem, "On the Pulse of Morning," during President Clinton's inauguration on Jan. 20, 1993. Not since Robert Frost read his work in 1961 for John F. Kennedy had a poet taken part in this ceremony.

But book lovers, poetry afficionados, television and movie viewers, theatergoers, social activists, and students all recognize her for different works. Maya Angelou's life path goes as far, and takes as many twists and turns, as the mighty Mississippi, near where she was born in 1928.

Maya Angelou, born as Marguerite Johnson, was a St. Louis native whose childhood was largely shaped by transition, by being separated from her parents and by being raped. Shortly after she moved to San Francisco at age 12 to be reunited with her mother, she discovered the world of dance, as well as becoming the city's first black streetcar conductor. She graduated from high school in 1945 and soon after had a son. For the next five years Angelou held such jobs as a Creole cook and a nightclub waitress.

But she never let the arts slip far from her sights. …

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