Celebrating Maya Angelou’s Birthday


[Editor’s Note: The following post is part of American Masters’ #InspiringWomanPBS campaign, which highlights the powerful, creative, and innovative women in our lives. Visit the Inspiring Woman page to join the campaign and submit the story of a woman who inspires you.]

Recently, at the National Black Writers Conference, several professors, writers and poets shared their thoughts on the literary giant, Dr. Maya Angelou, and on how she impacted their lives and work. Watch the video here.

Maya Angelou may have been best known as a poet, but she was truly a Renaissance woman. Born April 4, 1928, she built a life as a novelist, dancer, singer, mentor, teacher and mother. Her work, whether it was her Calypso dancing or her memoirs, has touched millions of lives and impacted generations.

So it seemed appropriate to honor her birthday by looking back on her life and legacy, sharing some of the lessons we’ve learned from her and some of the ways she stays with us:

1) She never shied away from a challenge.

When Bill Clinton decided to have a poet read at his inauguration, he immediately knew it should be Maya Angelou. Without hesitation, she began writing something for the occasion. Watch the video to learn about the original poem here.

Maya Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 by President Obama.

Maya Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 by President Obama.

2) She never let failure bring her down.

As a single mother and performing artist, Maya Angelou struggled to provide for her son. She had to spend much of her time on the road, but an opportunity to perform with Pearl Bailey offered stability and a regular income. Follow the story of Maya’s early career and watch the video here.

3) She shared her wisdom with an open heart.

Known for her work as a poet and novelist, Maya Angelou also changed lives as a powerful teacher. Watch this video to learn about one of her favorite lessons.

4) She tirelessly worked for change.

Early in her career, Maya Angelou lived and worked in Ghana with her son. There, she began a friendship that would last for decades with one of the most influential activists of the 1960s. Watch the video and learn more here.