Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. Her real name is Marguerite Johnson, but she later took the surname of her father, Bailey Johnson. Maya Angelou’s family were poor and often struggled to make ends meet. Maya Angelou was one of the first black people to graduate from high school in San Francisco. She then attended college for a short time before dropping out to become a professional dancer.
Maya Angelou’s first job was as a waitress in a coffee shop. It was here that she met a man named Vivian Baxter, who would later become her husband. Maya Angelou and Vivian Baxter had one son together, named Guy. Maya Angelou later worked as a journalist and a civil rights activist. In the early 1960s, she moved to Ghana to work as a journalist. It was here that she met her second husband, Malcolm X.
Maya Angelou returned to the United States after Malcolm X was assassinated. She continued to work as a civil rights activist and also became a successful author. Maya Angelou wrote several books, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which is considered to be her autobiography.
In “What’s Your Name, Girl?” by Maya Angelou, the significance of exclusively African American names is addressed. Angelou recounts her tale of being called out of her name to illustrate this point. Marguerite is furious when she is referred to as Margaret rather than Marguerite. The beginning starts with Mrs. Viola Cullinan calling Marguerite Margaret instead of Marguerite.
Maya is angered by this and Mrs. Cullinan then proceeds to ask Maya what her “real” name is. Maya tells her, but Mrs. Cullinan continues to call her Margaret. Maya’s brother Bailey steps in and tells Mrs. Cullinan that Maya’s name is not Margaret, it’s Maya. And if she can’t say Maya, then she shouldn’t say anything at all. This experience has a big impact on Maya, causing her to question why Mrs. Viola Cullinan would want to call her out of her name and why she would want to be called Margaret.
African American names are very important to the black community because they are a part of our history. Maya Angelou’s “What’s Your Name, Girl?” addresses the importance of specifically African American names. African American names are important because they are a part of our identity and our culture. When someone mispronounces or calls us out of our name, it is an act of disrespect. It is important to know and respect someone’s name, because it is a part of who they are.
Mrs. Viola Cullinan is having some friends over when one of the women suggests to her that perhaps she should have a shorter name, something like Mary. Marguerite, Mrs. Cullinan’s devoted servant overhears the conversation and is outraged at the suggestion, exclaiming that if Mrs. Cullinan ever calls her by such a diminutive name, she would no longer work for her. The next day Mrs. Culliman calls Marguerite “Mary.”
Marguerite does not get mad, instead she asks Viola why she did that. “What’s your name, girl?” Maya Angelou writes about Mrs. Cullinan and Marguerite in her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Mrs. Cullinan is a white woman who employs Maya’s mother, Vivian, as a maid and Maya as a part-time maid. Maya and her brother Bailey live with their grandmother, Annie Henderson. Viola (Marguerite) is Maya’s first name but she goes by Maya because her brother Bailey could not pronounce her name when they were younger. Mrs. Cullinan calls Maya by her first name, Viola, which Maya hates.
Cullinan and her companions. Miss Glory tells Marguerite about how she let Mrs. Cullinan slide with calling her Glory. Marguerite learns that her name was once Hallelujah. She experiences a range of emotions upon hearing this news, laughing at the thought of being named Hallelujah but also crying at the realization that she allowed a white woman to rename her for convenience sake.
Maya is once again exploring the idea of identity with this character. Maya chooses a very powerful scene to have Marguerite discover her original name. It is almost as if Maya is giving Marguerite back her power by having her remember her given name.
This part of the book was issued during the time of the black power movement. A big push during this time was for black people to start using their African names and to stop using slave names. This was seen as a way to gain power and reclaim their African heritage. Maya, through Marguerite, shows how someone can be caught between two worlds. On one hand, she has the world of Mrs. Cullinan and her white friends.
This is a world where she is not fully accepted, but is tolerated because she is seen as a curiosity. On the other hand, she has the world of her family and the black community. This is a world where she is fully accepted, but it is a world that she does not always understand. Maya uses Marguerite to explore the idea of what it means to be black in America.
Marguerite wants to leave her job. She wants to do so because she was called out of her name. Bailey, her brother, informed her about Cullinan’s favorite country. Marguerite purposely destroys China in order to be dismissed. Mrs. Cullinan is distressed when she sees the beloved Chine being broken. She begins calling Marguerite racial insults and refers to her as Margaret at the conclusion rather than Mary. This is significant since it shows that she understands a role shift has occurred in their power dynamic.
Angelou published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees.
Maya Angelou was raised in rural Arkansas by her paternal grandmother after her parents’ marriage dissolved when she was only three. When Maya was eight, she and her brother were sent to live with their mother in St. Louis; however, they ended up living with their maternal uncle in Oakland, California, after their mother’s boyfriend kicked them out.
Maya fell victim to rape by her mother’s boyfriend at age eight, an event which she would not speak of for decades and that haunted her throughout her life. Maya moved back to Arkansas with her brother at age thirteen to live with their grandmother, who helped Maya develop a love for reading and writing. Maya finished high school at age fifteen and gave birth to a son soon after.
Angelou married Tosh Angelos in 1951; the couple had one child together before divorcing in 1954. Maya then worked as a waitress, cook, bar maid, prostitute, and nightclub dancer before moving to New York City in 1957 to pursue a career in theater and acting. In 1958, Angelou met African American writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin, who introduced her to the Harlem Writers Guild. Maya’s first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), made her a literary star. The book describes Maya’s early life up to age seventeen and brought attention to the racism she faced as a child in the South.
Maya Angelou continued to write and publish throughout her life, becoming one of the most important authors of our time. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, becoming the first poet to read at a presidential inauguration since Robert Frost in 1961. Maya Angelou died on May 28th, 2014, at her home in Winston-