Issue 10: Maya Angelou
By Melanie Gasmen-Fleck
Dr. Maya Angelou was a renowned author, poet, and activist. She is known for changing the literary world with her compelling memoirs while also inspiring us to have hope in the face of injustice. We chose to feature Maya in our upcoming issue because she embodied kindness and believed it was a powerful tool for change. Issue 10 will focus on kindness and how Maya shared this trait throughout her life.
Marguerite Johnson, nicknamed Maya, grew up in Stamps, Arkansas. While living in the racially segregated South, she faced racism head-on and overcame personal childhood trauma. Although Maya endured many hardships, she was resilient and prevailed.
Before becoming a bestselling author, Maya worked in many different fields—from streetcar conducting to editing a magazine in Africa. At 16 years old, she became a mother and worked hard to support her son. She later was a professional dancer and was also a talented singer and actress. She performed in a production of “Porgy and Bess” that toured Europe and was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in Jerome Kilty’s “Look Away.”
Moving to New York jump-started Maya’s civil rights activism, after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech in Harlem in 1960. She helped create the “Cabaret For Freedom” show—a musical event series with singers, dancers, and other performers. All proceeds went to King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an African American civil rights organization. Maya then went on to work as a coordinator for the SCLC. For the rest of her life, she strongly advocated for both human rights and gender equality.
Maya’s first book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” recounted her childhood and spoke to the African American experience. With this title, she transformed a memoir into a groundbreaking work of poetry using profound prose and metaphors. It was one of the first autobiographies by an African American woman to reach global audiences. Maya’s 36 books, including her poetic volumes, continue to pave the way for marginalized voices to be heard.
She was also a teacher. Maya taught humanities at Wake Forest University for more than 30 years and in 1982, was named the University’s first Reynolds Professor of American Studies. She taught courses like the “World Poetry in Dramatic Performance,” “African Culture and Impact on U.S.,” and “Race, Politics and Literature.” She was known for using unconventional methods to teach her students—sometimes singing, reading Shakespeare, or cooking for them in her own home.
Maya also made history in 1993, when she became the first African American poet and first-woman ever to recite a poem at a Presidential inauguration. She recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s swearing-in. Seventeen years later, she would visit the White House again to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Maya died in 2014, at the age of 86, due to heart problems. However, her legacy continues to inspire people to be courageous, never give up, and most of all, be kind.
We can’t wait to share Maya’s story with you. Issue 10 is going to be all about poetry, the power of writing, and how kindness can change the world! Filled with creative writing exercises and lessons on kindness, you and the kids are in for an unforgettable issue.
The Maya Angelou issue will be available starting February 24. Want to get the Maya issue first? Subscribe to Bravery.