Today, we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Maya Angelou, a pioneering author, poet, filmmaker and civil rights activist! Maya was incredibly prolific in demonstrating her talent and passion, leaving her mark across the art world in almost every medium.
Throughout her acclaimed career, Maya often made history. When she was 17 years old, she published her first autobiography titled I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The book details her adolescence and life experiences up until the age of 17, addressing racism, trauma and the power of literature. It was featured on the New York Times Bestseller list, and received a nomination for the National Book Award. Nearly 45 years after its release, Time magazine announced that I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is one considered of the most influential modern works of all time.
Maya was also one of the first Black women to write a screenplay for a major film in 1972. Georgia, Georgia follows a Black singer who falls in love with a white man despite warnings from her assistant to only date Black men. Maya also scored the film, and, after its release, went on to compose the soundtrack for other movies while continuing to write and produce plays.
A year after Georgia, Georgia, Maya was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in Jerome Kilty’s Look Away. Although not particularly interested in acting, Maya continued to direct plays and played a starring role in the foundational television mini-series Roots (recipient of 9 Prime Time Emmy Awards in 1977 plus an additional 28 nominations).
When she recited her piece On the Pulse of Morning in 1993 — at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration — Maya became the first female inaugural poet in USA history. Maya also received the highest civilian honor in the United States from President Barack Obama in 2000: the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Along with the Medal of Freedom, Maya won many awards and honorary degrees, including the National Medal of Arts and three Grammy Awards.
To celebrate a life of boundless skill and determination, Rita Coburn Whack and Bob Hercules directed the documentary Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, named after Maya’s third volume of poetry. Stephanie Taylor wrote about the film for FF2 Media, which she defined as a “definite must-watch.”
‘And Still I Rise’ tells the story of the tumultuous yet triumphant life of Maya Angelou; writer, actress, singer, dancer and activist. First person accounts are given on her journey along with interviews from friends and family. Coming from a childhood of abandonment, sexual abuse and racism to gracing presidents and gaining accolades, ‘Rise’ gives justice to a legacy.
Stephanie also shared highlights, like, “The film opens with a voiceover from Maya Angelou’s poem, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (which I thought was symbolic due to her reminiscing of her childhood). One of Maya’s first memories of her parents was at the age of three, when they put her and her five-year-old brother Bailey on a train, unsupervised, from Los Angeles to Arkansas to be with their grandmother. When they arrived, they were covered in stamps. [Maya] had metaphorically declared her mother dead so she wouldn’t miss her.”
As she aged, Maya became not just a distant worldwide icon, but a mentor and close person friend to multiple generations most especially in the African-American community. In 1989, Oprah Winfrey showed her love and respect by commissioning Faith Ringgold to create a quilt in her honor, which Oprah then presented to Maya as a birthday gift. FF2’s Jessica Bond — who wrote a feature last year on Faith Ringgold work at the intersection of politics and art — described Maya’s Quilt of Life as an ode to Maya Angelou.
The quilt was commissioned by Oprah Winfrey in 1989 for Maya’s birthday. In an interview, Oprah described Maya as “our mother, sister, friend and teacher.” The work depicts Maya in a wooded forest surrounded by flowers and blooming trees. She is wearing one of her signature African print dresses and headscarf, showcasing Maya’s pride in her African heritage. It also depicts excerpts from Maya’s best-known work including ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ and ‘The Heart of A Woman.’ The poetic excerpts that are done in Maya’s handwriting depict how much Maya and Faith Ringgold had in common due to their determination to use their work to break the mold of stereotypes of Black women in American society.
Just yesterday, Stephanie Taylor added an additional item to FF2’s set of Maya Angelou posts: a new review of Down in the Delta (the only feature film Maya ever directed).
Who can say why, but ‘Down in the Delta’ is the only film Maya Angelou ever directed in her long, distinguished career. Although it was released in 1998, ‘Down in the Delta’ has a timeless quality that makes it touching decades later.
Celebrate Maya Angelou’s life and legacy with us today!
© Anna Nappi (4/4/22) Special for FF2 Media.
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Click below to read the text excerpts to be found on Maya’s Quilt of Life, including Maya Angelo’s immortal words:
I’m a woman
Click here to read Jessica Bond’s feature on Faith Ringgold which includes additional details about Maya’s Quilt of Life.
Click here to read Stephanie Taylor’s feature on the documentary Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise.
Click here to read Stephanie Taylor review of Maya Angelou’s feature film Down in the Delta.
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise — part of the PBS American Masters series — is available for purchase or rental on YouTube.
Learn more about Roots on IMDb.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Images from Pomegranate’s 2022 Faith Ringgold calendar have been provided by Pomegranate and are used here by FF2 Media with their permission. All Rights Reserved by Pomegranate.
Bottom Photo: Hillary Clinton and Maya Angelou at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem (NC) on 4/18/08. Posted on Wikimedia Commons by Kyle Tsui of Washington, DC. Licensed for use under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.