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The Student News Site of Gannon University since 1947


The Student News Site of Gannon University since 1947


The Maya Angelou Effect: How the Late Artist’s Legacy Lives on Today

Radical Reads
Image of Maya Angelou.

February 23, 2024/Midnight  


Erie Pa.— One can arguably state that the impact and influence of Maya Angelou on the world of literature is unlike any other. It is important to note that Angelou was a woman of many talents. Throughout her career she dabbled in acting, singing, and dancing. Angelou is most well-known for her poetry and penmanship as an author, according to Biography. 

Maya Angelou, originally Marguerite Ann Johnson, was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis. The nickname “Maya” would be given to her by her paternal grandmother, Ann Henderson, whose home in Stamps, Arkansas Angelou and her older brother Bailey would move into after their parents’ split.  

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Angelou’s young life had many hardships, including the sexual assault by her mother’s boyfriend at around age 7 that traumatized Angelou to the extent that she refused to speak for several years, according to Britannica.  

During this time of silence, Angelou would find her talent for writing. This incident and many of the other obstacles she faced throughout her adolescence and young adult life were referenced in one of her most famous works, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou’s first autobiographical work, published in 1969. She would take the name “Angelou” from her first husband and would use it in her professional life as a stage name that would stick for the rest of her career.  

Angelou’s professional career was outstanding. Not only did she garner accolades for all her fore-mentioned areas of expertise, but she was also a civil rights activist throughout the height of the Civil Rights Movement and worked directly with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. She even worked on the presidential committees of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. According to the Poetry Foundation, Angelou was also an educator, teaching at the Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she served as a professor of American Studies and was regarded as Dr. Angelou even though she had no college education.  

But, by the time of her passing, Angelou would win over 50 honorary degrees. Along with three Grammy awards, a Tony award and several other awards and recognition for her work, Angelou’s impact on American society was so great that she would be honored on a national level. In 2000, President Bill Clinton presented her with the National Medal of the Arts.  

Only 10 years later, President Barack Obama would famously present Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “Over the course of her remarkable life, Maya was many things – an author, poet, civil rights activist, playwright, actress, director, composer, singer, and dancer.  

But above all, she was a storyteller – and her greatest stories were true,” stated Obama in an official White House press statement following Angelou’s death. Obama’s personal connection to Angelou went deeper than just her art, “In fact, she inspired my own mother to name my sister Maya,” he mentions later in the press release. 

Although Angelou’s legacy was inspirational on a broad scale, her work was special because of the way many fans of her work connected with it on an intimate level. “Reading her words, for the first time, I could see myself and my life in literature,” writes Charles M. Blow in an opinion piece for The New York Times titled “Maya & Me & Maya,” a play on the title of Angelou’s final autobiography “Mom & Me & Mom” published in 2013.  

He later continues writing, “She demonstrated to me, even as a child, the overwhelming power of a great story well told, the way it could change hearts and change history. I am forever in her debt for that.” Rina Factor, a contributing writer for Panther Now, also speaks on Angelou’s influence in her 2018 article titled “Maya Angelou’s Life and Works are My Inspiration”.  

Factor states, “In an age when many people value technology over the arts, I think that her work illustrates the significance of literature and its power to expand our perspective on the world.” Factor reflects on a line from one of Angelou’s poems and later continues, “Her work is moving and relatable regardless of the reader’s race or gender because it illustrates emotions that are significant to every person who is a part of the human race.” We simply cannot go through Black History Month without honoring Maya Angelou.  

Her ability to capture such emotion solely through her words is incredible to say the least. Angelou passed away in 2014 at the age of 86 but left behind an incredible legacy that will undoubtedly live on forever in both the heads and the hearts of all the people she touched with her artistry. In the words of Angelou herself, “The idea is to write it so that people hear it, and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.” 

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