Maya Angelou Lesson for Kids: Facts & Biography

Instructor: Jessica Roberts

I have taught at the middle grades level for ten years and earned my MA in reading education in 2009.

Marguerite Johnson, better known to the world as Maya Angelou, was a woman who endured much in her life, accomplished even more, and possessed tremendous literary talent.

Who Was Maya Angelou?

Ever get a nickname and have it stick?! Well, Marguerite Annie Johnson experienced just that. Her older brother nicknamed her Maya, which means 'my sister.' And that name definitely stuck!

Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, but grew up in Stamps, Arkansas, with her mother's mom. Although Maya became best known as a writer and poet and achieved many literary accolades during her lifetime, her career included quite a few other positions, such as actress, dancer, singer, civil rights activist, and stage and TV director and producer.

Young Life

Before her death on May 28, 2014, Maya lived quite a full life. However, despite her popularity and her various accomplishments in her adult life, in her childhood Maya experienced the divorce of her parents, poverty, racial prejudices and discrimination, and sexual abuse. The sexual abuse that she experienced at age seven and the events that followed caused Maya to become a mute, not speaking for several years.

At the age of fourteen, she won a scholarship to study dance and drama at the California Labor School, yet she soon left school, becoming the first African American female streetcar conductor. Maya eventually went into acting, and even started writing her own material.

Maya Angelou's Writing Career

In 1970, she was convinced by James Baldwin - a prominent author at the time - to write the first volume of her autobiography series: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. An autobiography is a writing about a person's life by that person.

During her writing career, Maya published books, poems and essays that achieved much national and international praise. Among these include her Pulitzer Prize nominated work, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die, in 1971, and 'On the Pulse of Morning', which she wrote for Bill Clinton's inaugural ceremony in 1993.


Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou

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