Dr. Maya Angelou: Her Latest Re-Invention

Dr. Maya Angelou: Her Latest Re-Invention

(1928 – 2014)

Here’s what the media deluge says: Maya Angelou passed. Stop the presses!  She didn’t really die. She simply did what this magnificent literary genius has always done: she re-invented herself – again.

For Maya Angelou, re-invention was survival – all of her life – dodging, slamming, and bunting that nasty curve ball that life had pitched to her, using it to her advantage. Now, in failing illness, she stepped up to the plate again – one more re-invention.

For little Maya, named Marguerite Annie Johnson at birth, childhood was a horrific, traumatizing event. As a little girl, her parents split. She and her brother were sent to live with an aunt in Stamps, Arkansas around 1932. Not a hotbed of liberal acceptance! She saw brutal racial discrimination, unthinkable trauma and went into complete silence for several years. When life crashes in and you slam into a wall, isn’t it interesting how you adapt?

Maya Angelou begins to re-invent herself at age 7

  • At age 7, Maya was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She witnessed the further horror of her uncles’ killing of the rapist . It traumatized her so that she stopped talking – became mute from 7-11 years of age.
  • Re-invention: During her mute years, from 7-11, she saw herself as a big ear: “I thought of myself as a giant ear which could just absorb all sound, and I would go into a room and just eat up the sound. I memorized so many poets. I just had sheets of poetry; still do. I would listen to the accents, and I still love the way human beings sound. There is no human voice which is un-beautiful to me. I love them, and so I’m able to learn languages, because I really love the way people talk. I would listen”  (from Terri Gross’ interview on NPR).  It was a dedicated poetry teacher who brought her out of her silence. She bated her by accusing Maya of hating poetry – and that the only way she could love it was to read it out loud. Eventually, that’s exactly what she did – and the rest is history. Poet laureate re-invention!
  • As a pre-teen in Stamps, Dr. Angelou experienced the terror and brutality of racial discrimination on every street corner.
  • Re-invention: The passion and music of her unshakable faith and the values of the traditional African-American community diffused her fear and aroused a love of singing and dance that turned young Marguerite into a vocal talent unparalleled. As a very young teen, she sought out and won a scholarship for dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School – voila reinvention!
  • She needed money to continue to live in San Francisco.
  • Re-invention: In 1942, at age 14, she dropped out of school to become San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor.
  • After graduation from high school, she found herself pregnant with her son, Guy. She was 16 and unmarried. Her autobiographies describe how she traveled around the country with her baby, earning her living as a waitress,, prostitute, madam, singer, actress and writer. The lure of dance, music, and written word continued to beckon her to a better life.
  • Re-invention: She needed a stage name. In 1952, the future genius of literature wed Anastasios Angelopulos, a Greek sailor . She shortened his surname and adopted her childhood nickname “Maya” as her first name. Meet the new Maya Angelou, about to become star of stage and literary icon.


The re-inventions go on and on – and we know them well. In 1957, she was now actress and singer,  re-invents herself as civil rights leader. After living in Egypt and Guana, she befriends Malcolm X and Dr. Marten Luther King and comes home.  With their assassinations and her profound grief, she was urged by James Baldwin to write her memoir, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, reinventing herself as an all time best selling author.

Phenomenal Woman – a gift from Maya Angelou to you

 For all of us beautiful, phenomenal women who are re-inventing, re-creating, or starting over again, Maya Angelou has a gift for us. Through all her trauma, all her success, all her fear, all her achievements, she remained a “Phenomenal Woman”, and proud of it.  This poem is breathtaking spoken from her lips – a gift of love to all women.

Please listen: Click Here.

When we begin to doubt ourselves or what we can accomplish, I will turn to Maya Angelou for inspiration. I hope you’ll join me.

I never had the chance to ask her, but I know she would unequivocally agree with me on this: You’re not getting older, you’re getting started℠.

Passed? Not this lady! She’s re-inventing herself again. I can feel it in my feminine gut.

Did anyone else besides me hear that newborn baby cry? Watch out world, here she comes again!

Photo Credit: pennstatenews via photopin cc