Renowned Poet Maya Angelou Was Also an Actress Who Starred in 'Roots'

Tichafa Chidzonga
Jul 12, 2020
07:30 A.M.
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Renowned poet and author Maya Angelou left a lasting legacy through her life experiences that she turned into lessons on paper and stories in movies.


On May 29, 2014, Maya Angelou died in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina at 86-years-old. She had lived an illustrious career as a poet, author, actress, civil rights activist, mentor, and dancer.

Born in St Louis Missouri, she came from humble beginnings with her older brother Bailey. Her parents divorced when she was young. It is reported, at seven-years-old Angelou was sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend. The trauma left her mute for several years.

Maya Angelou poses for The Michael Jackson Tribute Portrait at Dr. Angelou's home June 21, 2010 | Photo: Getty Images


As a young adult, she was awarded a scholarship at the California Labor School to study dance and acting. Her path as a trailblazer started during World War II when she briefly worked as a car cable conductor in San Francisco. She was the first black female to hold the position.

By the 1950s, her acting career was on the rise, and she toured in the production of "Porgy and Bess." In 1957 Angelou starred in the 1957 off-Broadway production of "Calypso Heat Wave." The same year she released her first album titled "Miss Calypso."


During the 1960s, Angelou's travels to Africa where she spent many years in Ghana, inspired her writing. Fellow author and close friend James Baldwin inspired her to write her 1969 memoir.

The book titled, "I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing," became one of her most famous literary works. In 1995, the New York Times announced that for two years running, her work was on the bestseller list for paperback non-fiction.

Cicely Tyson and Maya Angelou in a scene for "Roots" as they stare lovingly at a baby on January 01, 1977 | Photo: Fotos International/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


In 1973 she was nominated for a Tony Award for starring in a play titled "Look Away." Four years later,

she was nominated

for an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in her role as Kunta Kinte's grandmother, "Nyo Boto" in the

groundbreaking mini-series


Angelou also wrote children's books and appeared on "Sesame Street" several times throughout her career.


She was recognized internationally. In her role as a mentor to Oprah Winfrey earned a regular position on the talk show hosts, "Oprah's Book Club." In a statement following Angelou's death, Winfrey praised her accomplishments, saying:

"She won three Grammys, spoke six languages and was the second poet in history to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration."

The poet is survived by her son, Guy Johnson, whom she had at 16-years-old during a relationship in high school that did not last very long.

Angelou was notoriously tight-lipped about her relationships. She married a Greek sailor named Anastasios Angelopoulos in 1952. She derived her professional name Angelou by shortening her ex-husband's surname.

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