Perhaps what makes Maya Angelou most unique is her willingness to completely share the highs and lows of her life with her audience through her in-depth autobiographical works including details such as the sexual abuse she suffered as a child, the early pregnancy and birth of her son, Guy, and her period of life as a prostitute and then madam in San Francisco as a means of providing her son with the support he needed. Never one to remain stuck in a given profession simply for the support it provided, she is perhaps as well-known for her variety of interests and professional pursuits as she is for her candid honesty and unfaltering work to try to help disadvantaged women in all parts of the world, particularly Africa, which she adopted as her homeland. Tracing through her life and work, one quickly discovers the true American spirit at work in her variety, energy and ability to exploit her opportunities even as the unique black experience of America and its awakening to its own power can be discovered within the texts of her novels and poems.
On April 4, 1928, a little girl given the name of Marguerite Annie Johnson was born in St. Louis, Missouri. She was welcomed into a small and somewhat unhappy family consisting of Bailey Johnson, who worked as a doorman and a naval dietician. Vivian Baxter Johnson, a real estate agent, trained surgical nurse and, eventually, a merchant marine. and a small brother only a year old who would become her best friend throughout most of her childhood, Bailey Jr. (Gillespie, 2007). This somewhat unhappy family broke apart just more than three years later and the small girl was sent with her only slightly older brother to live with her paternal grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. “In Stamps, the young girl experienced the racial discrimination that was the legally enforced way of life in the .American South, but she also absorbed the deep religious faith and old-fashioned courtesy of traditional African American life” (America’s Renaissance Woman, 2005). .