50 Facts Everyone Should Know About Maya Angelou

Rest in peace, Marguerite Johnson.

1. Maya Angelou was born April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Mo.
2. Her actual birth name is Marguerite Johnson.
3. Maya’s older brother, Bailey Jr., nicknamed her “Maya,” meaning “my sister.”
4. She grew up in Stamps, Ark., (the state where she recently had to cancel a reading because of “an unexpected ailment”).
5. She then wrote this really lovely letter as an apology.
6. When she was a teenager, Maya won a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School.
7. But when she was 14 years old she dropped out of school to become San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor.
8. She gave birth to her first and only child — her son, Guy — when she was 16 years old.
9. She never went to college but has received more than 50 honorary degrees.

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10. She recorded an album in 1957 titled Calypso.
11. She moved to New York in 1958 and joined the Harlem Writers Guild.
12. She acted in the Off-Broadway show, The Blacks.
13. She wrote and performed in Cabaret for Freedom.
14. She moved to Cairo, Egypt, and was the editor of The Arab Observer.
15. After one year in Cairo, she moved to Ghana and taught at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama.
16. She befriended Malcolm X — and planned on helping him build his new Organization of Afro-American Unity — before he was killed.
17. She worked as feature editor for The African Review and wrote for The Ghanaian Times.
18. She helped Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights movement as the Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
19. King died on her birthday in 1968, and she didn’t celebrate her birthday in the years that followed.

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20. She was the first black woman director and producer for 20th Century Fox.
21. She mastered six other languages besides English, including French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, and the West African language Fanti.
22. She’s the second poet in history to read a poem during the presidential inauguration.
23. She won a Grammy for an audio recording of that poem, “On The Pulse of Morning,” in the Best Spoken Word category.
24. She was friends with James Baldwin, who helped guide her in writing I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.
25. She had a cameo in the 1993 film, Poetic Justice.
26. She met Tupac Shakur on set, made him cry, and didn’t even know who he was.
27. She had a cameo in Madea’s Family Reunion.
28. She directed her first feature film, Down in the Delta, in 1998.

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29. She accepted the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University in 1981.
30. She taught classes in philosophy, ethics, theology, theatre, writing, and science.
31. Her screenplay, Georgia, Georgia, was the first original script by a black woman to be produced.
32. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, her book of poetry.
33. She had her own line of Hallmark greeting cards.
34. She supported Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries.
35. And publicly endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008 after Clinton lost the primaries.
36. She was apparently a good cook and even published two cookbooks.
37. She recorded a song with Common that she wasn’t completely happy with.
38. She was nominated for a Tony Award in 1973 in the category of Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Dramatic) for her role in Look Away.
39. She loved wearing Uggs.

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40. Over the course of her life, Angelou published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry.
41. She considered Oprah Winfrey her dear friend and the daughter she always wanted.
42. She was married to a Greek sailor named Tosh Angelos for a short time.
43. She never clarified how many times she was married after that because she feared “appearing frivolous.”
44. She hosted a weekly show for XM Satellite Radio’s Oprah & Friends channel.
45. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was third on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 1990–2000 and was sixth on the same list from 2000–2009 list.
46. She was a guest star on an episode of Sesame Street.
47. She did not speak for five years during her childhood because she believed her words brought on death.
48. She maintained the same writing process from the first book she wrote: She stayed in a local hotel room, had all of the pictures removed from the wall, and hand-wrote her stories on legal paper.
49. She was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2011.
50. She once said that she wanted the following phrase carved on her tombstone: “I did my best, I hope you do the same.”

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