Maya Angelou: Hope into Art

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Maya Angelou: Hope into Art

Before delving into a discussion of celebrated writer Maya Angelou, a fuller understanding of the worldview that shapes her work can be gleaned from a brief review of a few lines from the 1962 Nobel Prize winning speech of another celebrated writer, John Steinbeck:

The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit--for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectability of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.

(Steinbeck 1)

In Angelou's first novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she examines how a bird (soul) that is caged (unfree) would still sing. I was curious about this and my main question after reading the story is how Angelou came to such a hopeful worldview despite her many horrific life experiences (poverty, racism, assassinations, divorce, etc.).

The roller-coaster life of Maya Angelou has included many ups and downs that have become the stuff out of which she has written a six volume autobiography, beginning with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and ending recently with the last installment, A Song Flung up to Heaven. Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri (Weaver G-10). Angelou's life has been filled with chaos and despair as well as success and love. She was raped by her mother's boyfriend at the age of 8 and at various times in her life she toiled in a variety of occupations including Creole cook, calypso dancer, actress, madam, civil-righ...

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...ranscript). WNET, Available:, 2002: 1-3.

Jones, H. Maya fires a silver-tipped arrow right to the heart. Western Main, Jun 5, 2002: 12.

Kelley, K. Visions: Maya Angelou. Mother Jones, Available:, 2002: 1-4.

Kizis, S. Two women: Maya Angelou's character sketches. Writing, Apr/May 2002: 16-18.

Steinbeck, J. 1962 Nobel Prize winning acceptance speech. San Jose State University, Available: http://www.sjsu. edu/depts/steinbec/nobel.html, 1962: 1-2.

Weaver, T. K. Hope is not naïve. Pittsburgh Post, May 12, 2002: G-10.

Wilson, S. A Song Flung Up to Heaven: Lyricism, liberty and a lesson in hope. Scotland on Sunday, Jun 16, 2002: 5.

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