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Malendie Gaines English 11 A.F. Tunstall 14 March 2005

Maya Angelou’s Influences “Maya Angelou is a terrific editor, performer, singer, filmmaker, dancer, educator, and many more” (Metzer 102), but one thing she does best is writing. Angelou, born April 4, 1928, has had many influences throughout her lifetime. She has been influenced by her hardships, other, writers, religion, and the African American community, and from out of that came bountiful amounts of success. Maya has faced many barriers that tried to keep her from reaching her success but otherwise made her stronger. “Maya quoted, ‘you may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated’” (Landrum 204). She admits to be driven by her fears. During her early years, Angelou was raped by her mother’s new boyfriend, Freeman. Freeman told Maya he would kill her beloved brother, Bailey if she told. Freeman was charged and sent to prison. During this time period still in a stage of horror she retreated into a safe world of books where her imagination became her life, since it was suave and exciting. “The young Maya escaped emotional silence at the age of 11 through poetry” (112). “While attending high school she became pregnant; she gave birth to a son in 1945, just after receiving her diploma” (Valade 10). After she endured all of these hard ships, in 1970 she wrote, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which is about 16 year old Angelou having regained self-esteem and caring for her newborn son.

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Another obstacle Maya Angelou had to overcome was racism. As a child she discovered that the whites where superior to the blacks. Angelou was nurtured by the black community. Her grandmother overcame the racism and had made sure she was raising Angelou and her brother properly. To this day Maya can recall some of the misfortunes that the whites put her and her family through. For example, Maya recalls how her disabled Uncle Willie sometimes hid in The Store’s potato bin all night just to hid from the Ku Klux Klan or when her grandmother took her to see a white dentist for an emergency procedure and the doctor told them “I’d rather put my hand in a dog’s mouth than in a nigger’s” (Williams 15). Angelou’s writings reveal her encounter with racism, discrimination, hatred, and humiliation. Again from all of this mistreatment she wrote “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Maya Angelou is inspired by Shakespeare, Poe, Dickens, Dunbar, Kipling, and the Bronte sisters. While Maya was staying in Stamps, Arkansas she fell in love with William Shakespeare. As a girl, however, the writings of Shakespeare and Dunbar spoke to her sense of isolation and alienation. Although she enjoyed and respected all authors, she saved her loyal passion for Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson and W.E.B. Dubois. These different types authors indirectly taught her how to express her writings appropriately. Maya characteristically escapes into the world of books. Maya became interested in writing she moved to New York and joined Harlem Writers Guild. The strong writing of Linda Brent and Fredrick Douglass to Malcolm X and James Baldwin made Angelou interested in writing her biography.

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Even though Maya Angelou was a prostitute, did drugs, and many other sinful things religion was another influence on her writing. “After her grandmother’s death, Angelou’s style shifted from its generally more conversational tone to a religious tone” (77). During time she rediscovered black spiritual songs which encouraged plenty of her work. Her righteous strength came from her grandmother. When Angelou is about to write one of her famous books she prays before she starts her procedures. “One thing that drives Maya Angelou to write is the African American society. Angelou’s reflects aspects of her personal history. She finds pattern and order in the midst of chaos of all levels, from her own life to the life of her community. She feels as if she needs to write to the African Americans” (Batterton). Many of her poetry are all about the black community. When she is writing she abolishes several stereotypical myths about black women, which has been unheard of in American literature. In her autobiography she is speaking for all blacks. “She writes for the Black voice and ear which can hear it. She writes because she is a Black woman, listening attentively to her talking people” (Williams 31). Anyone can tell that Maya Angelou cares for her people. A couple of years ago she raised money for Blacks by reading poetry. “Maya Angelou had definitely paid the price for success. In 1972 Maya won a Pulitzer Prize nomination for Just Give Me a Drink of Water ‘fore I Die. In 1976 she was nominated for ‘Woman of the Year in Communications’” (Batterton). In 1977 she also was nominated for an Emmy Award. In 1994 she won a Grammy Award. Maya was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the National Commission on the Observance of International Woman’s Year and by President Ford to the American Revolutionary Bicentennial Advisory Council. Angelou has published ten best selling books and

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numerous magazine articles earning the National Book Award nominations. She was asked to read a poem at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. She was the first African American woman to have that privilege. Angelou also participated in the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. Martin Luther King. John Wesley once said, “Do not God to give you a light burden; ask Him to give you strong shoulders to carry a heavy burden.” This quote refers to Maya Angelou. She currently is Reynolds Professor at Wake Forest University in Watson-Salem, North Carolina. Her influences pushed her along the way. If it wasn’t for her hardships, religion, or her cultural background she would not be where she is now.