Her parents separated in 1931 and she was sent to live with her paternal grandmother.
She was sent back to live with her mother in 1935.
Her mom's boyfriend raped her at the age of 8. In 1937. She told her brother, who told the rest of the family. The man was convicted but jailed for only one day. But someone was less lenient than the law and murdered him 4 days after his release. This shocked Angelou so much that she became mute for 5 years believing her voice led to his murder. She was sent back to her grandmother.
Again, in 1941, she returned to her mom. She began her dance and drama education.
In 1942, she dropped out of high school to become San Francisco's first black female cable car conductor (equivalent of danfo conductor).
In 1943, she returned to high school, became pregnant at the age of 17. Began her career as a single mother, waitress and cook.
In 1951, she married a Greek electrician, aspiring musician and former sailor, Tosh Angelos. And became a professional dancer.
In 1954, her marriage to Tosh ended. She became a nightclub singer. Took up the stage name Maya Angelou and began a two year tour of Europe.
In 1957, she recorded her first album, Miss Calypso.
In 1958, she joined a writing club and began her writing career.
In 1960, she joined Martin Luther King Jr's civil rights campaign.
In 1961, she moved with her son to Cairo, Egypt, to become associate editor of a weekly newspaper, The Arab Observer.
In 1962, she moved to Accra, Ghana, to become an administrator at the University of Ghana. She also became a feature editor for The African Review, a freelance writer for the Ghanaian Times, a broadcaster for Radio Ghana, and a performer at Ghana's National Theatre. Met Malcolm X in Ghana and they became close friends.
In 1964, she returned to US to help Malcolm X build a civil rights organization.
In 1967, she began writing poems and plays again. And was living off stipends from a friend.
In 1968, she was asked by Martin Luther King Jr. to help organize a match. King was murdered on her 40th birthday, April 4. Again, she suffered a depressing shock which on recovering from brought out the genius in her. According to her biographer, Marcia Ann Gillespie, "If 1968 was a year of great pain, loss, and sadness, it was also the year when America first witnessed the breadth and depth of Maya Angelou's spirit and creative genius". Maya Angelou, without any previous experience, wrote, produced and narrated a ten-part series of documentaries. And also began work on her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
In 1969, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published and brought her international recognition and acclaim.
Talk about a life full of achievements! Over 30 honorary degrees for someone who didn't attend any college/university. Her real life sort of began at the age of 40, when she wrote her first autobiography after the shocking death of Martin Luther King Jr. She grew up at a time when racism was rife in US.
Her whole life can be summarized in this amazing poem of hers:
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.