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Phenomenal Woman: Maya Angelou’s Incredible Life

Most people recognize Maya Angelou’s name. She may be the most popular and well-known author/poet of our time. What many people might not know is how fully she lived her life, how many adventures she had, how phenomenal she really was.

I first read Maya Angelou’s famous memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a few years ago. Angelou describes her childhood in Arkansas with her grandmother, and her young life in California with her mother. This is Angelou’s most famous work. Until this past year, I didn’t even know that she had more memoirs — she has a total of seven!

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings book cover

I’ve read two more of Angelou’s memoirs, The Heart of a Woman and Mom & Me & Mom.

In The Heart of a Woman, Angelou focuses on an important time in her life: when she lived in New York City and abroad in Africa. Coming first to New York as a singer, she joined the Harlem Writers Guild in order to focus on her writing. Inspired by the Civil Rights struggle, and a personal meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., Angelou and others organized a multi-talented show, called Cabaret for Freedom, in order to raise money for Civil Rights causes. Because of her efforts, she was later appointed as the Northern Coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC, an important Civil Rights group).

The Heart of a Woman book cover

Later on in her book, Angelou moves all the way to Cairo, Egypt, and ends up working as an assistant editor on the Arab Observer. Angelou confesses in her book that she had no idea how to work at a newspaper, but she studied other newspapers and books as much as she could in order to learn how to be an editor.

“I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”
-Maya Angelou

Angelou didn’t let inexperience or fear keep her from working, writing, performing and so much more. Throughout her life, Angelou performed in plays, wrote screenplays, produced plays, composed soundtracks, wrote memoirs, wrote poetry, and taught as a college professor. She performed her poetry at President Clinton’s inauguration and President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

She truly lived an amazing life. Whether you’re familiar with Maya Angelou or if you’ve never heard of her, please pick up one of her memoirs or poetry collections! We can all draw inspiration from the experiences of such a phenomenal African American woman.


Adina enjoys cooking and eating (mostly eating), ranting about books and watching movies with her friends. You can find her working at the West End branch or relaxing in her cozy apartment.

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