Author, poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson. Her older brother nicknamed her “Maya”, derived from “My” or “Mya Sister”. She had a tumultuous childhood, was the victim of child rape, and was mute for a period of five years. But as a child she also developed a love of literature and exceptional observation skills.
Angelou lived a very full and amazing life. At the young age of 16, she bore a son. After a subsequent marriage to a Greek sailor, Anastasios Angelopulos, she assumed the professional name Maya Angelou.
Her varied career took her to California, New York, Cairo and Ghana. Urged to write about her life, she published a enormously successful 1969 memoir about her childhood and young adult years, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In doing so, she made literary history as the first non-fiction best-selling African-American woman.
Listen to Maya Angelou recite her poem, Phenomenal Woman here.