This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Answer the questions (you don¶t need to write the questions, you can just include the question in the answer). Read the Angelou quote and think about what it might mean. General Marguerite Johnson (Maya Angelou) was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928. Her father, Bailey Johnson, was a doorman and navy dietitian. Her mother, Vivian (Baxter) Johnson, was a real estate agent, trained surgical nurse, and later a merchant marine. Angelou's older brother, Bailey Jr., nicknamed Marguerite "Maya", shortened from "my-asister". Evidence suggests that Angelou's family is descended from the Mende people of West Africa. Childhood The first 17 years of Angelou's life are documented in her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. When Angelou was three, and her brother four, their parents' "calamitous marriage" ended. Their father sent them to Stamps, Arkansas alone by train to live with his mother, Annie Henderson. Henderson prospered financially during the Great Depression and World War II because the general store she owned sold needed basic commodities and because "she made wise and honest investments". Four years later, the children's father "came to Stamps without warning" and returned them to their mother's care in St. Louis. At age eight, while living with her mother, Angelou was sexually abused and raped by her mother's boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. She confessed it to her brother, who told the rest of their family. Freeman was found guilty, but was jailed for one day. Four days after his release, he was found kicked to death, probably by Angelou's uncles. Angelou became mute, believing, as she has stated, "I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone..." She remained mute for nearly five years. Shortly after Freeman's murder, Angelou and her brother were sent back to their grandmother once again.
Adulthood In the late 1950s, Angelou moved to New York City and began to concentrate on her writing career. She joined the Harlem Writers Guild, headed by her friend, novelist James O. Killens. She met a number of major African American authors, including her close friend and mentor James Baldwin, and published for the first time. After becoming close friends with Malcolm X, Angelou returned to the US in 1964 to help him build a new civil rights organization, the Organization of African American Unity; he was assassinated shortly afterward. In 1968 Martin King asked her to organize a march, but he too was assassinated, on her birthday (April 4). Instead of celebrating her birthday, she sent flowers to King's widow, Coretta Scott King, until King's death in 2006. Inspired by a meeting with her friend James Baldwin, Angelou dealt with her grief at King's assassination in 1968 by writing her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969, which brought her first international recognition and acclaim.
Views and Attitudes Angelou has presented herself as a role model for African American women by attempting to re-construct the stereotypes that African American women have faced. This means that Angelou has tried to present, through her writing, a vision of African American women that challenged the stereotypes that society has created for her race and for her gender. We might say that she was frustrated with the identity that was being created for her by society and felt a desperate need to tell the truth. This is not surprising as white culture in America tended to believe that African Americans were lazy, uneducated, weak, and of less value to society than whites. Women were considered the same, but were also seen as inferior to men, were often treated as objects and generally were treated with no respect.
Questions On the text ± Achieved Level 1) What was Angelou¶s birth name? 2) Where was she born? 3) What happened to her at age 8? 4) What did she do as a result of this? 5) Where did she move to in the 1950¶s? Between the lines ± Merit Level 1) Why did Angelou stop speaking after the event with Mr. Freeman? 2) Why might moving to New York have provided Angelou with inspiration to become a writer? 3) Why did Angelou send flowers to Martin Luther King¶s widow instead of celebrating her own birthday? 4) Why was Angelou interested in writing about female and African American identity? Beyond the lines ± Excellence Level 1) How might Angelou¶s experiences as a child have affected her attitude towards the power of language? 2) To what extent might Angelou¶s poetry be a way for her to overcome the experiences of her past? 3) How do you expect Angelou¶s attitude towards identity to be different from Elizabeth Bishop¶s?
An interesting Angelou quote:
³A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.´ What do you think Angelou is saying here? What does this make us expect from her poetry?