Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dr. Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsActing like the depiction of an incessant "white boy", I confess that I had failed to read Maya Angelou's first book "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" until this week in preparation for this posting. I can say with honesty that it was an enlightening experience and that I hope to read all of her works in short order. Dr. Angelou and her family were at a party nearby last week (contrary to rampant rumors, Opera was not present) tweaking my interest in her and leading to much research, including reading her first work, and this posting. Although one can't help being aware of Dr. Angelou in today's society, especially living in close proximity, I was uncomfortable addressing her without first attempting to know much more about her. It was a most interesting study and I now have a greater appreciation for this remarkable woman.

With over 30 honorary degrees Dr. Maya Angelou is an adopted citizen of our Salem since 1981 upon accepting the first lifetime Professorship of American Studies at our Wake Forest University.
Dr. Maya Angelou
“Dr. Maya Angelou is a remarkable Renaissance woman who is hailed as one of the great voices of contemporary literature. As a poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director, she continues to travel the world spreading her legendary wisdom. Within the rhythm of her poetry and elegance of her prose lies Angelou's unique power to help readers of every orientation span the lines of race and Angelou captivates audiences through the vigor and sheer beauty of her words and lyrics.” From Dr. Angelou’s Official Website
Born Marguerite Johnson on April 4th, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, Dr. Angelou was raised in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas. In the South Dr. Angelou experienced the cruelty of racial discrimination as she learned the entrenched faith and values of a traditional Southern African-American family. Dr. Angelou won a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School where at 14 she dropped out to become San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor. She later finished high school giving birth to her only son as few weeks following her graduation. As a young single mother, she supported her son by working as a waitress and cook, among other endeavors with music, dance, performance, and poetry later becoming her direction.

Selected highlights of her life:

  • 1954 and 1955: Toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess.

  • Studied modern dance with Martha Graham, danced with Alvin Ailey on television variety shows.

  • 1957 - Recorded her first album, Calypso Lady.

  • 1958 - Moved to New York, joining the Harlem Writers Guild, acted in the historic Off-Broadway production of Jean Genet's The Blacks and wrote and performed Cabaret for Freedom.

  • 1960 - Moved to Cairo, Egypt, served as editor of the English language weekly The Arab Observer.
  • 1961 - Moved to Ghana, taught at the University of Ghana's School of Music and Drama, worked as feature editor for The African Review and wrote for The Ghanaian Times.
  • Read and studied insatiably, mastering French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti.
  • 1964 - While in Ghana, she met with Malcolm X and returned to America to help him build his new Organization of African American Unity. Shortly after her arrival in the United States, Malcolm X was assassinated and the organization dissolved. Soon after X's assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked Dr. Angelou to serve as Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King's assassination, falling on her birthday in 1968, left her devastated.
  • 1969 - With the guidance of her friend, the novelist James Baldwin, she began work on the book that would become I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Published in 1970, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published to international acclaim and enormous popular success. The list of her published verse, non-fiction, and fiction now includes more than 30 best-selling titles.
  • Wrote the screenplay and composed the score for the 1972 film Georgia, Georgia. Her script, the first by an African American woman ever to be filmed, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
  • 1977 - Appeared in the landmark television adaptation of Alex Haley's Roots
  • 1993 – Appeared in John Singleton's Poetic Justice
  • 1993 - Composed a poem "On the Pulse of the Morning" and read it at President Clinton’s Presidential inauguration broadcast live around the world.
  • 1996 - Directed her first feature film, Down in the Delta.
  • 2000 - Awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts.
  • 2008 - Composed poetry for and narrated the award-winning documentary The Black Candle, directed by M.K. Asante.
  • 2008 - Awarded the Lincoln Medal
  • 2010 – Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom along with President George H. W. Bush, business man Warren Buffett and civil rights activist John Lewis
  • Dr. Angelou has received 3 Grammy Awards.
Please enjoy this video of Dr. Angelou's reading of her poem "On the Pulse of the Morning" at Bill Clinton’s Presidential inauguration:

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