Maya Angelou: A Source of Humanity
"I am human," Angelou said, "and nothing human can be alien to me" (Shafer).
Maya Angelou just may be the most "human" person in the world. Indeed, with all of the struggles she went through in her early life, her humanness increasingly deepened. Her life was characterized by the instability of her childhood and her family, along with the challenge of being a black woman growing up in 19th century America. The deepness of her humanness is evident in all of her writings, from her autobiographies to her poetry. Now a success today, Angelou's major themes are inspired by the dream of overcoming the struggles that were ever-present in her life.
Born April 4, 1928 in Saint Louis, Missouri, Maya Angelou's given name was Marguerite Johnson. In her early twenties she was given the name Maya Angelou after her debut performance as a dancer at the Purple Onion cabaret. She has been labeled as a poet, historian, author, actress, dancer, singer, playwright, civil-rights activist, teacher, producer and director (Shafer). Today, she lectures throughout the US and abroad and has been Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina since 1981. She has published ten best selling books and numerous magazine articles earning her Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award nominations. At the request of President Clinton, she wrote and delivered a poem at his 1993 presidential inauguration. Maya Angelou, poet, was among the first African-American women to hit the bestsellers lists with her "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." She has ranged from story to poem to song and back again, and her theme has always been one of love and the universality of all lives. "The honorary duty of a human being is to love," Angelou said (Shafer). One of the most remarkable things is that she has this loving nature instilled inside of her, despite the struggles and experiences she has gone through in her life.
When Angelou was about three years old, her parents, Bailey Johnson, a naval dietician, and Vivian Johnson, divorced, and Maya and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. Angelou claims that her grandmother, whom she called "momma, had a deep-brooding love that hung over everything she touched" (Burt). Growing up in Stamps, Angelou learned what it was like to be a black girl in a world whose boundaries were set by whites. She was conditioned to think that white girls had better lives than black girls. Despite the odds, her grandmother instilled pride and confidence in Angelou that would benefit her for years to come (Shafer).
After five years of being apart from their mother the children were sent back to St. Louis to be with her. This move eventually deeply scarred Angelou when she was raped by her mother's boyfriend at the age of 8 (Burt). Following this incident and the rapist's threats, Maya was mute for nearly five years. She was sent back to Stamps to live with...