All my work, my life, everything I do is about survival, not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated. – Maya Angelou
When I first decided to portray Maya Angelou, I was bit afraid by the task and I didn’t know how to start. I have so much admiration for this woman I think I would never be able to transcript it properly.
She has had such an incredible life, and let such a great legacy with numerous of books and poems and she was also a pioneer as a black woman in fields such as cinema, theater and literature.
During her life she has been a writer, a poetess, a journalist, an actress, a singer, a dancer, a screenplay writer, a film director, an activist, a composer, a theater director, a college professor, and a world traveler, but above all she did whatever she wanted to, without letting “no experience” or “no diploma” stop her. She really got the black girl magic at its finest.
She wrote articles, short stories, TV scripts, documentaries, autobiographies, and poetry, produced plays, and was named visiting professor at several colleges and universities. She was nominated for a Tony Award in 1973 for her role in Look Away. As a theater director, in 1988 she undertook a revival of Errol John’s play Moon on a Rainbow Shawl at the Almeida Theatre in London.
Her movie Georgia, Georgia produced by a Swedish film company and filmed in Sweden and released in 1972 was the first screenplay written by a black woman. She also wrote the film’s soundtrack.
She has also been the first black woman film director in 1996 Down in the Delta movie.
Born in 1928 in a segregated America, her life yet, didn’t begin under the best auspices. Raped at 8, mute until 13, mother at 17, she never had a bachelor degree, but she still managed to be one of the most influential personality of her time.
Her genius is unanimously recognized and celebs like Barack Obama, Serena Williams mention regularly her work as a source of inspiration and wisdom, she was Oprah Winfrey’s friend and Mentor and we can find her motivations quotes everywhere on the internet.
Her most famous works are her books. She wrote about her life in a series of seven autobiographies.
When, the first of the series, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1969, she was one of the first African-American women to be able to publicly discuss her personal life.
« According to scholar Hilton Als, up to that point, black female writers were marginalized to the point that they were unable to present themselves as central characters in the literature they wrote. »
Telling her truth was in the center of her work and she even wrote about the darkest part of her life such as the rape she has been the victim of and her past as a sex worker.
Although some have tried to erase this from her past, Angelou was public about it. She said, “I wrote about my experiences because I thought too many people tell young folks, ‘I never did anything wrong. Who, Moi? – never I. I have no skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have no closet.’ They lie like that and then young people find themselves in situations and they think, ‘Damn I must be a pretty bad guy. My mom or dad never did anything wrong.’ They can’t forgive themselves and go on with their lives. So I wrote the book Gather Together in My Name”, about her past as a sex worker.
She was a world traveler, and a linguist, she traveled throughout the USA and Europa, she lived in Cairo and several years in Accra in Ghana.
Her fame and recognition exploded in 1993, when Madam Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, becoming the first black woman poet to make an inaugural recitation.
Friend with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King before their death, activist for the civil rights all her life, in 2008 Barack Obama’s election she stated, “We are growing up beyond the idiocies of racism and sexism.” And, despite everything I want to believe she was true. She died on april 2014 at aged 86, in her house in Winston-Salem.
There is still so much to say about her as she lived so many lives in one, but I will end this portrait with one of my favorite poems of her that could be the #blackgirlmagic movement anthem : Phenomenal Woman.