In 1961 Maya Angelou met South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make; and she and her son Guy moved with him to Cairo, where she became the editor of “The Arab Observer”.
When her relationship with Make ended, she went with her son to Accra, where she worked as an editor and a freelance writer, and taught at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama. She was active in the African-American expatriate community and became close with human rights activist and black nationalist leader Malcolm X.
On her return to the U.S., in 1964, she helped Malcolm X build a new civil rights organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which disbanded after his assassination the following year. Devastated and adrift, she joined her brother in Hawaii, where she resumed her singing career, but soon she moved back to Los Angeles to concentrate on her writing career.
In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. asked her to organize an event. She agreed and promised that she would help him raise money for his Poor People’s March, but only after her birthday party… and it was precisely on her 40th birthday (4 April 1968) that King was assassinated.
She continued to dedicate her birthday to King over the following thirty years, in which she and his widow, Coretta Scott King, sent each other flowers.
Overwhelmed, she was helped by her friend and fellow writer James Baldwin, who pulled her out of her devastated stupor, encouraging her to write about her life experiences. The resulting work was the enormously successful 1969 memoir about her childhood and young adult years, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
Despite having almost no experience, she also wrote, produced, and narrated a series of documentaries about the connection between blues music and black Americans’ African heritage.
After that autobiography, the first nonfiction bestseller by an African American woman, which brought her international fame, she wrote another six autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry (she was termed “the black woman poet laureate”, and her poems have been called the anthems of African Americans), and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows.
She received dozens of awards, more than thirty honorary degrees from colleges and universities from all over the world.
Even though she had not earned a university degree, she became the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and she loved being called “Dr. Angelou” by people.
She was one of a few full-time African-American professors and, from that point on, she considered herself “a teacher who writes”.
She taught a variety of subjects that reflected her interests, including philosophy, ethics, theology, science, theatre, and writing.
In January 1993, she recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, becoming the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since 1961, when Robert Frost delivered his poem “The Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.
Maya Angelou passed away on the morning of 28 May 2014, at the age of 86. She was at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and was found by her nurse. Although she had been in poor health and had cancelled recent scheduled appearances, she was working on another book, an autobiography about her experiences with national and world leaders