April is U.S. National Poetry Month, and today marks what would have been Dr. Maya Angelou’s 90th birthday.
Her real name was Marguerite Annie Johnson, but she created the name “Maya Angelou” by combining her childhood nickname and a riff on her then-husband’s surname.
Angelou, best known for her writing, was a poet, singer, dancer, author, director and civil rights activist. She wrote numerous books and essays, earning her more than 50 degrees including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Here are a few more things to know about her legacy, according to TIME magazine:
- Before the #MeToo and #TimesUp national movements, Angelou wrote about her own sexual trauma experiences. Her first book called I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings tells how her mother’s boyfriend had raped her when she was a little girl. He was imprisoned and later beaten to death after released from jail. Although the book was banned in some places because of its details, those that did read and connected with it knew they “weren’t alone” after undergoing similar situations.
- At only 16-years-old, Angelou was the first female African-American cable car conductor in San Francisco. She was also one of the first African-American female members to join the Directors Guild of America after releasing her 1972 film titled Georgia, Georgia about an interracial romance.
- Besides Robert Frost, Angelou was the only other poet who had the opportunity of reading their original work at a presidential inauguration. Bill Clinton chose Angelou – she read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings during his inauguration.
- She received three Grammy Awards and five nominations for best spoken word albums. Other honors included nominations for both a Tony award and the Pulitzer Prize.
Her complicated yet meaningful past is worth acknowledging and remembering.
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