“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
I remember reading snippets of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in high school and have always been aware of Maya Angelou, but I was quite amazed at what I learned about her this week. I knew that Maya was an author, but she was actually so much more!
Maya was born as Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her older brother nicknamed her Maya. She became “Maya Angelou” while she was a dancer - a mixture of her brother’s nickname for her and a variation of her first husband’s surname. She was a poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She is well-known for her seven autobiographies, but has also written poetry, screenplays, composed music, performed as a singer, dancer, actress, taught as a professor, and was a public speaker. She worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X. She spoke several languages and loved to learn the language of each country she visited. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. Maya recited her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning” at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton, which made her the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. She was lovingly known as “the people’s poet.” She died on May 28, 2014 at the age of 86.
Maya set a few records for “first”. She was the first female African-American cable car conductor, and the first Black woman to have a produced screenplay. She also directed “Down in the Delta” at 70 years old.
Maya was mute for five years during her childhood after experiencing something that no child (or any human being) should ever have to experience. During her silent period, she developed an extraordinary memory, a love for literature, and an uncanny ability to observe and listen to the world around her. Because of her connection to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X, Maya was deeply heartbroken by their assassinations. Maya experienced some pretty hard things in her life, and yet she rose above them all and did some pretty incredible things. She had the courage to share her experiences and her knowledge with the world through literature, movies, songs, poetry, etc.
One thing I also learned from Maya is the beauty of relationships. Maya had strong connections with people throughout her life and those relationships meant a lot to her. She had a way of connecting with people. I think this quote from an interview is beautiful:
“What I would really like said about me is that I dared to love. By love I mean that condition in the human spirit so profound it encourages us to develop courage and build bridges, and then to trust those bridges and cross the bridges in attempts to reach other human beings.”
I think it’s incredible that despite everything Maya went through, she still loved people. Maya is proof that our experiences do not define us, nor do they have to control us. We can overcome what we experience in life and use those experiences to learn and to grow. The trauma of Maya’s childhood became a catalyst for the way she saw the world. She found strength and power in an awful situation, and then she shared it with the world.
What we learn from Maya:
We can learn from what we experience in life, even when we experience hard things. Sharing our experiences and what we have learned can empower others who are going through similar things; it can also connect us with others which brings greater healing and joy.
Write a story together about someone that is trying to do something/experiencing something that is hard. Here are some things to consider while you write your story:
- Who is your main character? What are they like?
- What hard thing will they experience? What makes it hard?
- How will they overcome it? Will they have help? From who?
- What will your character learn? From the experience? About themselves? About the world?
- How will your story end?
- If you need some inspiration, look at some of your favorite books and try to answer the questions above. Why are those books your favorite? What do you like about them? How can answering the questions above help you to write your own story?
Once you write your story, share it with someone! You can illustrate your story and make your own book (you could even get it printed at a print shop!) or you could turn it into a play or make a video to share with family members, friends, or social media. If you do create a story, we'd love to hear about it! Either comment below, or send us a message on Instagram (@daisymay_and_me).
- How can we try to have a positive attitude when we are having a hard time? Does having a positive attitude make it easier?
- Can you think of a time when you were struggling with something? Did you learn anything about yourself during that time? How have you grown since then?
- What do you think it means to do your best? What does it mean to be the best version of yourself? Is it a competition with others? What do you think matters more: being the best version of yourself, or being the best?
Want to learn more about Maya Angelou?
Here are some additional places to learn more about here:
- Books by Maya:
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
- Gather Together in My Name
- Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas
- The Heart of a Woman
- All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes
- A Song Flung Up to Heaven
- Mom & Me & Mom
- Great Food, All Day Long (Cookbook)
- Hallelujah! The Welcome Table (Cookbook)
- Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now
- Life Doesn't Frighten Me (children's book)
- My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me (children's book)
- Maya's World: Renee Marie of France (children's book)
- Maya's World: Mikale of Hawaii (children's book)
- Maya's World: Izak of Lapland (children's book)
- Maya's World: Angelina of Italy (children's book)
- Maya Angelou: The Complete Poetry
- Rainbow in the Cloud
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
- Amazing Peace
- Just Give Me a Cook Drink of Water 'Fore I Diiie
- Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well
- His Day is Done
- Phenomenal Woman
- A Song Flung Up to Heaven
- Shaker, Why Don't You Sing?
- And Still I Rise
- The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou
- Books about Maya:
- Maya Angelou by Lisbeth Kaiser (children's book)
- Rise!: From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou by Bethany Hegedus
- Dreamers: Maya Angelou (Encyclopedia Womannica)
- Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise (2016)