Maya Angelou: The Original Solo Adventuress
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 Sings. You 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.
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.