Maya Angelou – Renaissance Woman

           A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song. [Maya Angelou] 

Maya Angelou was the first African-American woman to. . .

–work as a cable car conductor in San Francisco

–have a nonfiction best-seller; her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings set a record at The New York Times, remaining on the best-seller list for two years.

–have her screenplay produced; Georgia, Georgia was nominated for a Pulitzer.

–direct a major motion picture, Down in the Delta

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 3.21.47 PMThe most common description of Maya Angelou is “Renaissance woman.” Often this term is misused, meaning a person who has broad interests. The correct usage is for a person who has extended knowledge or proficiency in a number of fields, and Maya Angelou could be a poster child for the word. One need only consider the professions, endeavors, and awards of her life to see how well she fits the definition.

Her Professions when Young: Cable car conductor, waitress, cook, night-club dancer and performer, professional dancer with Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey

Her Experience as a Civil Rights Worker: helped Malcolm X build Organization of African American Union and, at Dr. Martin Luther King’s invitation, was Northern Coordinator for the Southern Leadership Conference

Her Artistic Endeavors: Off-Broadway actress, musician (wrote score for her film Georgia, Georgia), actress in television and movies, feature film director, producer of plays, movies and public television programs

Her Literary Accomplishments: editor of English language weekly (in Ghana), feature editor, The African Review, non-fiction author (seven autobiographies, three books of essays), creative writer (plays, movies, television shows), Poet

Her Role of Educator: Teacher, University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama, Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University

Her Honors and awards include over 50 honorary degrees, the Presidential Medal of Arts, the Lincoln Medal, a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her book of poetry Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Die, two Tony Award nominations, for her role in the play Look Away and another for her role in the play Roots. She received three Grammy awards for spoken word and read her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning” at the inauguration of President Clinton

The word “renaissance” means re-birth and Dr. Angelou has been re-born throughout her life. In turn, she has used her work to inspire others so that we also might be re-born through the magic of her lyricism and the import of her message.


Read the biography on her official website:

Read the poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:”

Locate her books:; her films:; and some of her photographs and media work:


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