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:


Fall 2013’s First Women To. . .

THE MUSESI received the lovely grace of being able to spend the fall in Southern Europe. I enjoyed the quality of life and the freedom from the usual daily responsibilities, but I missed out on being in touch with the news from the United States. When I returned to a pile of magazines and newspapers that I had not read, I began to plow through them and discovered that there had been several firsts for women of which I had been unaware:

**In September, Nancy Gibbs, a best-selling author and essayist who comments on politics and values in the United States, became the first woman to hold the position of Managing Editor at Time magazine.

** Mylène Paquette of Montreal was the first women to row a one-person boat across the North Atlantic. Literally, this one doesn’t fit my listing of first women from the United States, but Time magazine said she was the “first North American woman to” and that certainly makes her American:

**Janet Napolitano has already appeared in the daily Women of Note twice: on November 6th, as the first woman governor to succeed another woman governor and on November 29th, her birthday, as the first Secretary of Homeland Security. Now she has another distinction: the first woman to head the University of California’s 10-campus system.

**Susan Westerberg Prager is the first dean and chief executive of Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. Earlier in her career she was the first woman to hold the position of dean of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.

**Three women share the “First Woman To. . .” honors for being the first to pass the Marine Corps’ combat training course: Pfcs Julia Carroll, Christina Fuentes Montenegro and Katie Gorz.

***And now, Mary Barra has been named the first female CEO of General Motors. She is the first CEO of any major auto company and General Motors is now the biggest company in America headed by a woman.

***Janet Yellen still waits in the wings for Senate confirmation of her appointment to chief of the Federal Reserve. The word is her appointment will be approved before the end of the year. At that time she joins Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, as one of the two most powerful economic leaders in the free world.

If you know of any more firsts from the fall of 2013, please add them here, by clicking on the comments section.