Maya Angelou is a poet, historian, author, actress, playwright, civil rights activist and a publisher and director. She lectures throughout the United States and abroad and is the Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. She has published ten best-selling books and countless magazine articles. At the request of President Clinton, she wrote and delivered a poem in the 1993 presidential inaugural. Dr. Angelou began her career in drama and dance. She married a South African freedom fighter and lived in Cairo where she was the editor of the Arab Observer, the only English-language speaking new weekly in the Middle East. In Ghana she was feature editor of the African Review and taught at the University of Ghana. In the 1960’s at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, she took a position as the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She was then appointed by President Gerald Ford to the Bicentennial Commission and by President Jimmy Carter to the National Commission in the Observance of International Women’s Year. All of this came from that little girl described in I know Why the Caged bird Sings. Through this book, the first of several auto-biographical writings. I learned about a little girl who was proud, a little girl who was wiser than almost anyone acknowledged, and a little girl who was fair and expected the rest of the world to act the same way.
In Caged Bird, Maya spends most of her time with her grandmother, Annie Henderson, whom she immediately calls “mamma”. Mamma taught Maya’s sweet young heart a lesson or two about living respectfully and being respected. The incident in chapter one, which recounts the three little white girls came to Mamma’s store to make fun of Mamma and to see and hear the child they had begun hearing about. Maya had raked the leaves into a design when the girls came into the grocery store’s yard, if it could be called that.