Dr. Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father, Baily Johnson, was a doorman, and, later a dietician for the navy. Her mother, Vivian Johnson, was a registered nurse. When Angelou was three years old, her parents were divorced. They sent her and her four-year-old brother, Baily, Jr., to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, in Stamps, Arkansas. Henderson ran a small general store and managed to scrape by. She continued to do so after her grandchildren joined her.
Angelou’s grandmother was one the many strong who trained her, helped her, and provided her with role models. The people of her church also nurtured her and gave her a sense of belonging to a community. But her child hood in the south was a nightmare. In 1982, Maya Angelou told Ebony Magazine about Stamps. She said: “When I was taken to California by my grandmother, I vowed never to return to the grim, humiliating south. Except for a tentative trip to visit when I was eighteen, I didn’t break my promise until I was forty years old.”
When she was seven and a half, Angelou left Stamps to visit with her mother. While there, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. He was tried, found guilty, and kicked to death in prison. The confused little girl felt responsible for his death and withdrew into herself. “I was mute for five years, I wasn’t cute and didn’t speak. I thought he was killed because I spoke his name that was the only logic I was able to employ. So I thought if I spoke, anybody might die.” In frustration, her mother sent her back to Stamps. Her emotional withdrawal caused many to think of her as backward, but her grandmother did not give up on her. “My grandmother told me all the time, ‘Sister, Mama don’t care what these people say about you being a moron, being a idiot. Mama don’t care. Mama know, Sister, when you and the good Lord get ready, you’re gonna be a preacher.'” Angelou was also helped by a woman named Bertha Flowers, who introduced her to literature.
By the time of her graduation from eighth grade, she was at the head of her class. While attending high school, she took drama and dance lessons. She then decided that she wanted to be a streetcar conductor in San Francisco. Although San Francisco had never had a Black conductor and was not eager to hire one, she persisted and, with her mother’s support managed to attain her goal. At sixteen Angelou gave birth to her son, Guy. She did not plan her pregnancy but has always been grateful that it happened. “The greatest gift I’ve ever had was the birth of my son. Because when he was small, I knew more than he did, I expected to be his teacher. So because of him, I educated myself. He began to ask questions I didn’t have the answers to, so I started my lifelong love affair with libraries . . . I’ve learned an awful lot because of him. “
Still, her life at this time was not easy. In addition to teaching her son, she also had to support him. She was a cook and a nightclub waitress and, for a short time, “madam” for two lesbian prostitutes. She began doing drugs but then quit after seeing what they had done to her brother. When she was twenty-two, Angelou married Tosh Angelos, a white former sailor. Two years later she left him and became a professional dancer. She then moved to New York to pursue a career and study with Pearl Primus. In 1954, she was cast in a production of Porgy and Bess that toured Europe and Africa. When she came back to the United States, in 1960-61, she was northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1961 she also appeared in an acclaimed off-Broadway production of the Blacks, by Jean Genet. The show was highly successful and ran until 1964.
By this time, Angelou was writing poetry, short stories, and songs. Her reputation was growing. In 1970, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published. It became a best seller and an instant classic, and became a made-for-television movie. In 1971, her screenplay Georgia, was made into a film, making her the first Black woman to have an original screenplay produced. The four other volumes of her autobiography are, Gather Together in My Name (1974), Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (1976), The Heart of a woman (1981), and All God’s Children Need Travelin Shoes (1986). She also published several volumes of poetry and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for one of the, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie (1971).
In 1973, Angelou appeared on Broadway in Look Away and was nominated for a Tony Award. In 1977 she received an Emmy nomination for her performance in the mini series Roots. She was appointed to the Bicentennial Commission by President Gerald Ford and to the Commission of International Women’s Year by President Jimmy Carter. For many Americans, one of the most memorable moments during the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, on January 20, 1993, came when Maya Angelou recited the poem, “On the Pulse of Morning” not since 1961, when Robert Frost read his work at the ceremony for president John F. Kennedy, had a poet taken part in a presidential inauguration.
Dr. Angelou is best known for the first volume of her autobiography, in it, she bravely speaks of her battle to overcome abuse, rape, and poverty. For thousands of young Black women reading the book, it is a way of passage for those who have been similarly victimized, it is like a soothing ointment that helps heal the wounds. Angelou gives a voice to the voiceless; she says, “You’re not alone. In happened to me too. You are not to blame. You will survive.”
The Humanistic approach can be applied to Dr. Maya Angelou’s biography in a number of ways. In order to do so, I attempted to take each piece by piece to gain a clear understanding of both. Beginning with the four elements of the approach: it is obvious that she accepts personality responsibility for her life, and doesn’t blame anyone else for anything bad that may have happened to her. She hasn’t allowed anyone else to make her decisions. Her need for personal growth doesn’t seem like it has been met due to the fact that she continues to work and strive for more. I would consider Dr. Angelou to be a fully functioning person because she trusts her own feelings, and experiences them very deeply. It is easy to tell that she really cares about other people and is a true humanist (motivation by growth need).
When looking at Manslow’s hierarchy of needs, it is obvious that her physiological needs have been met, simply because, she is still alive. Since her life as a child was very chaotic and her future was unpredictable, her safety needs were not met at that time. Statements such as “All my life, everything has been about survival. All of my words are meant to say. ‘You may encounter many defeats but you must not be defeated. In fact the encounter may be the very experience which created the vitality and the power to endure, “‘ lead me to believe the she has, however, managed to find a way to stabilize her life and have those needs met.
“What I would like said about me is that I dared to love.” She said to Essence Magazine. “By love I mean the condition in the human spirit so profound it encourages us to develop courage and build bridges and learn to trust those bridges and cross the bridges in attempt to reach other human beings.” This shows that her belongingness and love needs have been met because she knows that they are important and has allowed them to be. I believe that the kind of love adopted by Angelou is B-love because she is really concerned with the well-being and growth of others. I could tell that her self-esteem needs have also been met because if they weren’t, she wouldn’t be as successful as she is.
One statement in the book that really stood out to me about self-actualization was made by Manslow”: An artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. He must be true to his own nature.” I feel that although Angelou is doing something that makes her happy, and that she loves, her self actualization needs have not been met because she continues to do more. I personally believe that if these needs are met, then people lose their motivation and drive to live, because there is nothing to achieve, no goals to reach, which results in nothing to look forward to anymore.
Maya Angelou is a psychologically healthy person because she does posses self-actualizing creativity, which is shown in her writing, she accepts herself, and expresses herself freely. I think her life seems to be full of optimal experiences, one of which is writing. She has stated that she “can write for eighteen hours straight in complete solitude and not notice it.” She also seems to have no problem with disclosure, which is obvious because she is a writer. She continuously puts her feelings and emotions on display. She discloses events that are traumatic as well as those that are not, which seems to be good for her self-development because it is a great release. I’m not really sure if Dr. Angelou has experienced loneliness, but it is possible because everyone has felt that way at one time or another.
“One would say of my life-born loser-had to be: from a broken family, raped at eight, unwed mother at sixteen . . . in fact but that’s not the truth. In the Black community, however bad it looks, there’s a lot of love and much humor.” This statement shows that there are many ways in which race, and sex have affected Angelou’s life because she would not have gone through a lot of the experiences that she has if she simply were not a Black woman.
“You’re going to be famous,” Billie Holiday told Maya Angelou in 1958, “but it won’t be for singing.” The first part of this prophecy was fulfilled. The second part, in the most superficial sense, was true as well. Angelou’s fame did not grow from the nightclub singing she was then doing to support herself and her son. But in a way Holiday was wrong. Since she first put paper to pen, Maya Angelou has been singing.
In closing, by taking all of the aspects of the Humanistic approach into consideration, I believe that it does, give a few possible explanations about Dr. Angelou’s personality when directed to the little information that is given about her in her biography. By writing this paper I feel that I have gained a deeper insight on how to appreciate and apply this approach to the life and personality of anyone. I understand how this approach can apply to many people that I come into contact every day and possibly explain why they behave in the manners that they do. If they are writers and all that they put forth are sad pieces, if they are singers and mostly talk about sex. Whatever the case may be, there is a reason behind the things that people do. The humanistic approach can apply to all areas of life with no exclusions based on race, class, or gender.