In a 2009 interview with Maya Angelou, Guardian writer Gary Younge summed up the American poet’s incredible biography in a perfect way:
“To know her life story is to simultaneously wonder what on earth you have been doing with your own life and feel glad that you didn’t have to go through half the things she has. Before she hit 40 she had been a professional dancer, prostitute, madam, lecturer, activist, singer, and editor. She had lived in Ghana and Egypt, toured Europe with a dance troupe and settled in pretty much every region of the United States.”
Pretty impressive—but that’s just the Cliff’s Notes version.
The more I learn about Angelou, who passed away in 2014 at the age of 86, the more blown away I am by her intellect, strength, and sense of humor. I also totally get why the media doesn’t always tell her whole story: It took Angelou seven full-length autobiographies to get through the whole yarn.
Here are nine facts about the poet that are often cut from media and teaching materials in the interest of saving time — but that prove what a phenomenal human being she really was:
1. She became the first black female streetcar driver in San Francisco…
…when she was 14 years old.
2. She created a 10-part documentary about the influence of African-American culture on the broader American cultural landscape.
She did this while mourning the death of her friend Martin Luther King Jr. (who was assassinated on her birthday), all without having any formal training as a filmmaker.
3. She threw really epic parties.
Even into her 80s, Angelou threw some rocking get-togethers. As she told the New York Times, not even her health problems could get in the way of her life-of-the-party attitude.
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