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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Women's History Month

Maya Angelou, through her powerful writings, has inspired generations of women, African-Americans and all people who struggle to overcome prejudice, discrimination and abuse. Throughout her life, Angelou has defied social norms. After being raped by her mother's boyfriend, she withdrew and was mute for five years. However, encouraged by her grandmother, who introduced her to literature, she gradually emerged as a talented artist. Her diverse career includes being the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco. In 1954, Angelou turned to acting before she started writing while also working as northern coordinator and fund raiser for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In the 1960s, Angelou began to focus on her writing and, in 1970, her first autobiographical work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, became a best seller and was nominated for a National Book Award. Angelou's writings have altered society for the better, bringing greater diversity into the theater and literature. Her autobiographical works provide powerful insights into the evolution of black women in the 20th century. In 1971, she became the first black woman to have a screenplay produced as a film -- Georgia, Georgia. Her writings have brought her numerous awards and have been nominated for a Tony Award, an Emmy Award and a Pulitzer Prize.

Interesting Facts: Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri. Her brother, Bailey, began to call her "Maya," and the name stuck.

At age seven, while visiting her mother in Chicago, she was sexually molested by her mother's boyfriend. Too ashamed to tell any of the adults in her life, she confided in her brother. When she later heard the news that an uncle had killed her attacker, she felt that her words had killed the man. She fell silent and did not speak for five years.

Became San Francisco's first African American female cable car conductor.

Nightclub singer; She toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess in 1954 and 1955. She studied modern dance with Martha Graham, danced with Alvin Ailey on television variety shows and recorded her first record album, Calypso Lady (1957).

She served as an instructor and assistant administrator 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 and the Ghanaian Broadcasting Company

Maya Angelou returned to America in 1964, she worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His assassination, falling on her birthday in 1968, left her devastated. She found solace in writing, and began work on the book that would become I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The book tells the story of her life from her childhood in Arkansas to the birth of her child. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1970 to widespread critical acclaim and enormous popular success.

In 2000, Dr. Angelou was honored with the Presidential Medal of the Arts; she received the Ford's Theatre Lincoln Medal in 2008. In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded her the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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