Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Johnson, is regarded as one of the celebrated American writers alive. Besides writing a lot of memorable works, she is also the subject of other authors who have written a lot about her life and works. There is her biography written by two of her friends, Marcia Gillespie and Richard Long, along with her nephew Rosa Butler. Mary Jane Lupton writes a biography-cum-writer’s guide on Maya Angelou’s works. L. Patricia Kite also writes a similar book depicting her life story and so does Jill Egan who highlighted the trials Angelou went through but also the triumphs as well.
In his work, Jeffrey Elliot compiled interviews made by several authors on Maya Angelou to create a verbal mosaic of the life and works of the writer. Lyman Hagen makes a critical analysis of her works and managed to find the “secret” behind the success of Angelou. Priscilla Ramsey makes a critical analysis of Angelou’s poems in a journal. Another analysis is made by William Sylvester. Carol Neubauer analyzes one of her works, The Heart of a Woman to understand the woman behind the words. Sidonie Ann Smith wrote an analysis of Angelou’s first work The Song of a Caged Bird which centers on self-acceptance.
Gillespie, M. , Butler, R. J. and Long, R. A. (2008). Maya Angelou: A Glorious Celebration. New York: Doubleday. This biography was written by her friends Gillespie and Long with her nephew Butler. This was written and published in celebration of Angelou’s 80th birthday and as the title of the book suggests, it has been 80 glorious years of her life though it has had its ups and downs as the authors hold nothing back in relating the colorful life of one of America’s celebrated literary artists.
The book covers the traumatic experience she had at a young age to the beginning of her literary talents during her adolescence; she ventured briefly into acting and took part in the civil rights movement, rubbing elbows with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X until the time she took part in the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. Though Angelou had a troubled youth, she moved on and it was through literature that she was able to pull through and used it as her vehicle to express happiness and optimism. Lupton, M. J. (1998). Maya Angelou: A Critical Companion. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.
Lupton provides a critical analysis of Angelou’s 5-volume autobiography. For each one, she provides an general overview, a background of the story. This would be followed by an analysis of various points of view like a narrative in the case of Heart of a Woman then describe the structure of the story where patterns are found. Then there is a plot development which focuses on revealing the character of the subject followed by a character development which reveals the character’s personality as the story develops. Then there is the thematic issues which identifies the theme of the story.
This is followed by styles and literary devices which describes what devices were deployed by Angelou. This book would be a reliable guide to anyone who reads Angelou and needed a quick reference to its technical aspects besides the stories themselves. Kite, L. P. (2006). Maya Angelou. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company. This book is a biography of Angelou. The author touches on the personal aspects of Angelou’s life. She starts the story in 1993, the day Angelou recited a poem at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration and segues back to the day she was born and moving progressively to 1996.
Her poems are mentioned here but not fully presented. This book caters mainly to elementary school students and serves as an ideal starter for anyone who appreciates poetry and will be surely inspired after reading Angelou’s story. Egan, J. (2009). Maya Angelou. A Creative and Courageous Voice. Pleasantsville, New York: Gareth Stevens Publishing. As the title suggests, this book mainly tackles the life and times of Maya Angelou. In the nine chapters of this book, Egan takes the reader on a journey covering the life and times of Angelou which is fraught with trials and tribulations but also of the courage to go one despite its presence.
In the chapter “Finding Her Voice” was the start of Angelou’s literary career which was meant to be a form of therapy but later on became her calling. In the latter chapter, “A Glorious Legacy,” she turned to writing greeting cards for Hallmark not because she needed a job but for the love of writing and the celebration of life. Elliot, J. M. (Editor). (1989). Conversations with Maya Angelou. Jackson City: University of Mississippi Press. Elliot has compiled several interviews made by selected authors with Maya Angelou. Each interview or conversation tells the same story.
It is about the triumph over adversity and her works serve as her vehicle of conveying that message. Angelou also clarified that her works are not exclusively dedicated to African-Americans though she lived through the turbulent times with them, but for all mankind. This book is ideal for scholars and students who wish to gain more insight to the woman behind remarkable works. Hagen, L. B. (1997). Heart of a Woman, Mind of a Writer and Soul of a Poet. Lanham Maryland: University Press of America. Hagen’s work is a critical analysis of the works of Maya Angelou.
The first chapter is devoted to telling her life story. Chapter 2 reveals Angelou’s “secrets” to her very successful works which is the use of humor to offset the trying times she had gone through in her life instead of dwelling on the hurts of her past. The rest of the chapters makes an analysis of her works – her autobiographies and her poems as well as other aspects of Angelou’s multi-faceted life. These are purely analysis and do not give the full text of her works save for excerpts used in making the analyses. Ramsey, P. R. (1984). Transcendence: The Poetry of Maya Angelou.
Current Bibliography on African Affairs 17 (2). 139-153. Priscilla Ramsey makes an in-depth analysis on the poems of Maya Angelou. Angelou’s poems are grounded on the reality of life as she has experienced them. Angelou uses her poems as a means to express her thoughts and sentiments not only about her own life but also the events that were unfolding around her from segregation to the civil rights movement. Angelou has practically employed every known literary device to be able to write elaborate poems that pretty much capture life the way she has seen it through her own eyes.
Sylvester, W. (1995). Maya Angelou: An Overview. In T. Riggs (Editor) Contemporary Poets. New York: St. James Press. Sylvester gives an overall analysis of the poems of Maya Angelou. While doing so, he highlighted events in Angelou’s life which have had a profound influence on her, from William Shakespeare which she confessed was her “first love” to her involvement in the civil rights movement as an organizer working alongside Martin Luther King. Sylvester reveals that her poems are uniquely hers and are not imitations of other works as revealed with unique words she used.
Neubauer, C. E. (1983). Displacement and Autobiographical Style in Maya Angelou’s Heart of a Woman. Black American Literature Forum 17 (3). 123-129. Neubauer makes an in-depth analysis of one of Angelou’s work Heart of a Woman which is more of an autobiography. Her starting point is the time she already reached adulthood, highlighting her different careers especially in one of the turbulent times not only of her life but to all black Americans for this was the civil rights movement. She uses her own life experience to mirror how “little people” felt.
She provides a grassroots level view of the things happening in society here through her own eyes. She also compared and contrasted the styles of two of its prominent movers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, finding the latter more congenial. Smith, S. A. (1973) The Song of a Caged Bird: Maya Angelou’s Quest after Self-Acceptance. The Southern Humanities Review. 365-375. This is another analysis of a work by Maya Angelou. From the year, one can tell this is one of the earliest analysis made and this is “fresh” from the recent events of the previous decade where Angelou had been very active in the civil rights movement.
But this story highlights the childhood of Angelou which was anything but happy. Her youth is a journey to freedom from “imprisonment” caused by misery and highlighted moments of struggle as she moved on until she finally attained the freedom she sought and it all boil down to self-acceptance. Angelou’s story is not a mere autobiography but also serves as a lesson in life where self-acceptance is the main theme and one of the keys to coping with life’s problems.
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