Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson, in St Louis, Missouri, in 1928. Her brother could not pronounce her name properly and called her Maya, the name that she came to be known by.
She had a difficult childhood – after suffering abuse when she was eight years old, she stopped talking for five years. She later wrote her autobiography, describing overcoming her childhood trauma, and growing up in the segregated south of USA – when people of colour and white people were not allowed to mix. She was committed to the civil rights movement, which aimed to break the segregation and allow people to live freely.
Since the early 1980s, Ms Angelou worked at Lake Forest University in North Carolina. In 1993 she recited her poem ‘On the Pulse of the Morning’ at President Clinton’s inauguration.
When Maya Angelou died, President Barack Obama said
“A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking – but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves.”