Maya Angelou: The Original Solo Adventuress

Paula Froelich
Editor at Large
May 28, 2014

(Photo: AP)

The world lost a great woman today. 

Maya Angelou, the late great novelist, poet, singer, dancer, actor and all-around Renaissance woman was one of America’s first female solo explorers and adventurers. Because her life took her all over the globe she meticulously recounted her travels and experiences — the good, bad and the very ugly — in her seven autobiographies, essays, and poetry. 

We take a look at the cities that were the backdrop of this great woman’s life.

St. Louis, Missouri

Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis and was scarred by a traumatizing early childhood. At the age of 8, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Angelou told her brother who told the family and the man was arrested. He served only one day in jail but was killed four days after his release. After his death, Angelou stopped speaking. St. Louis is one of the settings for her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsYou can check out Angelou’s “star” on the city’s Hollywood-style St. Louis Walk of Fame on Delmar Boulevard — alongside plaques for other notable resident and authors T.S. Eliot and Tennessee Williams.

(Photo: Thinkstock) 

Stamps, Arkansas

After the rape, Angelou moved in with her grandmother in Stamps, where a teacher and friend of the family, helped her to speak agin after five years of silence. Her grandmother ran the only African American general store in the city, which was also featured in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Two hours away in Little Rock, Arkansas, you can visit the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center and learn about Arkansas’ African American history and culture.

San Francisco, California

Angelou recounts her time as a young teen mother in San Francisco in her second autobiography, Gather Together in My Name, which tells how the desperate teen worked as a cook and prostitute. Angelou was the first African-American female cable car conductor in the city. In her 20’s, she performed alongside Phyllis Diller (of all people) at the comedy club, the Purple Onion, which has moved locations but still hosts comedy performances.

(Photo: Thinkstock)

New York City, New York

In New York, Angelou formed a modern dance troupe with Alvin Ailey called “Al and Rita” and came out with her first album, “Miss Calypso.” It was in New York that she officially changed her name to Maya Angelou and married a Greek electrician and aspiring sailor. She joined the Harlem Writers Guild and began her writing career.

Cairo, Egypt

Angelou moved to Cairo to live with South African freedom fighter Visumzi Make and she was the associate editor of the English language newspaper, The Arab.

View of old Cairo form Mosque minaret. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Accra, Ghana

After breaking up with Make, Angelou went to Ghana where she joined a dance troupe and became friends with Malcolm X. He convinced her to move back to the U.S. to help with civil rights.

Shanties on the Jamestown beaches. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Los Angeles, California

She moved to LA to focus on her writing career and work in the civil rights movement in 1965 — just in time for the L.A. riots and Martin Luther King’s death. It was there that she produced “Blacks, Bues, Black!” — a 10-part documentary series on the roots of the blues — and wrote “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Baltimore, Maryland

It was here, in the 1970s that Angelou formed a lasting and deep friendship with Oprah Winfrey.

Winston Salem, North Carolina

Angelou’s last stop — she moved to this college town in 1981 to teach at Wake Forest University. This is where she composed her famous poem for Bill Clinton’s inauguration, “On The Pulse of Morning.” 

(Photo: Thinkstock)