Who is Maya Angelou? - Biography, Books, Poetry & Accomplishments

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  • 0:02 Maya Angelou at a Glance
  • 2:10 Books
  • 3:13 Poetry
  • 4:29 Accomplishments
  • 5:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: James Greaver

Jim has a master's degree in secondary Education and has taught English from middle school level to college.

In this lesson, we will look at a remarkable woman, Maya Angelou, and discuss her biography, some of her works, and her accomplishments. You will then be asked to take a short quiz to test your comprehension of the lesson.

Maya Angelou at a Glance

On April 4th, 1928, Dr. Maya Angelou was born in Saint Louis, Missouri. She would rise to renown for her prolific endeavors as poet, novelist, essayist, teacher, producer, dramatist, historian, filmmaker, civil rights activist, and even actress! In her youth, she lived in Stamps, Arkansas, where she encountered the cruelties of racism. In her teens, Dr. Angelou discovered her love for the arts and gained a scholarship in drama and dance at San Francisco's Labor School. She dropped out at the age of 14 to become the first African-American female conductor on the cable car system, though she did later return to finish high school.

Dr. Angelou began her performing career in 1954 and 1955, touring Europe in the opera, Porgy and Bess. She went on to study dance and then performed on variety shows on television. In 1957, she recorded Calypso Lady, her first foray into music. In 1958, she relocated to New York, where she entered the Harlem Writers Guild and acted Jean Genet's The Blacks and wrote and acted in Cabaret for Freedom. Dr. Angelou also lived and toured in different continents around the world, including Europe and Africa.

Dr. Angelou met Malcolm X in Ghana and in 1964, returned to America to help him establish his new Organization of African American Unity. After Malcolm X was assassinated and the organization disintegrated, Dr. Angelou served as Northern Coordinator for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Martin Luther King's assassination occurred on her birthday and left her distraught. Down, but not out, Dr. Angelou still continued her prodigious career.

She began her novel-writing career at the urging and assistance of her friend, writer James Baldwin, and published her first, and arguably most prominent work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in 1970. Her later accomplishments in writing total more than 30 bestsellers and include verse, non-fiction, and fiction. She acted in many films and television shows in her later years and won numerous awards and titles. Dr. Angelou passed away on May 28, 2014, at the age of 86.


Dr. Maya Angelou was a prolific writer and wrote many books. These include the autobiographies:

  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969
  • Gather Together in My Name in 1974
  • Singin' and Swingin' and Getting' Merry Like Christmas in 1976
  • The Heart of a Woman in 1981
  • All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes in 1986
  • A Song Flung Up To Heaven in 2002
  • The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou in 2004

She also wrote children's books. Titles for these include:

  • Mrs. Flowers: A Moment of Friendship in 1986
  • Life Doesn't Frighten Me in 1993
  • Soul Looks Back in Wonder in 1993
  • My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken and Me in 1994
  • Kofi and His Magic in 1996
  • Maya's World in 2004

Dr. Angelou's many written works also include numerous plays, screenplays, and essays, as well as work in television and films.


Now that we've looked at several of the great books she's created, let's delve into some of her poetry titles:

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