A Brief Biography of Maya Angelou, plus her Horoscope
We take a look at the life and times of the great American poet, Maya Angelou, and a glance at her horoscope as well.
Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, on April, 4, 1928, the second child of Bailey Johnson, a navy dietician and doorman, and Vivian (Baxter) Johnson, a nurse and card dealer. She had a brother, Bailey Johnson, Jr., a year older, and he is the person who nicknamed her "Maya," shortened from "Mya Sister."
Maya was three when her parents' volatile marriage ended and she and her brother were sent alone on a train by their father to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, in Stamps, Arkansas. Unlike so many at the time who were suffering through the Great Depression, Annie prospered throughout the period and during World War ii, as she owned and operated a general store that provided basic necessities and made, according to wikipedia,"wise and honest investments."
When Maya was seven her father arrived unannounced and took the children back to Saint Louis to live with their mother, and when she was eight she was raped by Vivian's boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. He was arrested, charged, found guilty, and served one day in jail. Four days after he was released, Freeman was murdered, most likely by Maya's uncles. Upon learning of the murder, Maya became mute for the next five years. She has since said "I thought my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone..."
After the murder she was sent back to Stamps to again live with her grandmother. Here she met a teacher and family friend, Bertha Flowers, who she credits with helping her to speak again. Flowers introduced her to authors such as Charles Dickens, William Shaskespeare, Edgar Allen Poe and others, along with black poets such as Frances Harper, Anne Spencer and Jessie Faucett.
At fourteen she moved with her mother and brother to Oakland, California, where she attended George Washington High School and studied dance and drama. Before graduating, she served for a short time as the first African-American female street car conductor in San Francisco.
Three weeks after completing high school, Mayas gave birth to a son, Clyde, who would eventually become a poet like his mother. In her second autobiography, Gather Together in My Name, Angelou "depicts a single mother's slide down the social ladder into poverty and crime" from the age of 17 until she was 19. She writes that she worked as "the front woman/business manager for prostitutes, restaurant cook, and prostitute."
Marriage, early career
Despite the disapproval of her mother and the taboos against interracial marriage at the time, in 1951 Angelou married a Greek electrician, former sailor and aspiring musician Enistasious Angelos. Soon she began taking classes in modern dance and met dancers and choreographers Alvin Ailey and Ruth Beckford. She and Ailey formed a dance team, calling themselves "Al and Rita" and performing at fraternal African American organizations throughout the Bay Area.
After her marriage to Angelos ended in 1954, she danced in clubs around San Francisco, specifically the Purple Onion, where she sang and danced calypso music. It was here that at the suggestion of her managers and supporters that she changed her name from "Marguerite Johnson" or "Rita" to Maya Angelou.
In 1953-54 she toured Europe with a production of Porgy and Bess and began to try to learn the language of every country she played in and in a few years she became fluent in several different ones. Riding the crest of the popularity of calypso in the mid fifties, she recorded the album Miss Calypso in 1957, which was re-issued as a CD in 1996.
Civil rights activism
Now wanting to concentrate on writing for a career, Maya Angleou moved to New York in 1959 at the urging of novelist James O. Killens and joined the Harlem Writers Guild, where she met noted African-American authors John Henrik Clarke, Rosa Guy, Paul Marshall and Julian Mayfield. She met and heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in 1960, after which she and Killens organized (according to wikipedia) "the legendary Cabaret for Freedom to benefit the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was named SCLC's Northern Coordinator...Angelou also began her pro-Castro and anti-apartheid activism at this time."
"In 1961, Angelou performed in Jean Genet's The Blacks, along with Abbey Lincoln, James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett and Cicely Tyson. That year she met South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make...." She began a relationship with him and they moved to Cairo, along with her son Guy. There she became the associate editor of the English language newspaper the Arab Observer. After her relationship with Make ended she and Guy moved to Accra, Ghana, where Guy attended college. After Guy was seriously injured in an auto accident she remained in Africa for his recovery and ended up staying there for five years. She became a high-level administrator for the University of Ghana, was active in the African-American expatriate community, wrote freelance for the Ghanian Times, wrote and broadcast for Radio Ghana, was a feature editor for the African Review, and performed for Ghana's National Theatre.
While in Ghana she became close friends with Malcolm X, and she returned to the United States in 1965 to assist him in building the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Shortly after Malcolm was assassinated. His killing devastated her, and after drifting for a time she joined her brother in Hawaii, where she ultimately resumed her singing career. She returned to Los Angeles in the early summer of 1965 to focus on her writing career. After acting in and writing several plays, she returned to New York in 1967, where she met her lifelong friend Rosa Guy and renewed her friendship with James Baldwin whom she had met in Paris in the fifties. She would always call Baldwin "my brother."
After becoming devastated again upon the assassination of Dr. King, Maya Angelou was assisted out of her deep depression by Baldwin. It was out of this depression that she wrote, produced and narrated "Blacks, Blues, Black!", a ten-part documentary regarding the connection between blues music and black Americans' African heritage for National Education Television. In the latter part of 1968 she produced her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which gained her international recognition and acclaim.
In 1972 she wrote the screenplay for Georgia, Georgia, the first screenplay ever written by a black woman. Since then she has continued writing - among other things seven autobiographies in all - articles, short stories, and plays. She has been nominated for a Tony Award, named a visiting professor at several universities, received over thirty honorary degrees, and became the first poet since Robert Frost to read at a presidential inauguration.
Maya Angelou is now 85 years old and has slowed down very little. She still makes public appearances to read her poetry. She is truly a renaissance woman.
When analyzing a horoscope an astrologer is free to start anywhere he or she likes, as long as in the end the reading is synthesized into a reasonably coherent whole. In this case, let's start with Neptune rising in Leo, closely conjunct her Leo ascendant. Neptune rules the arts, fantasy, imagination and music, among other things. In Leo, along with Leo rising, Maya Angelou was well-suited to express herself and project her personality (first house) through poetry, music and dance (Neptune), in acting and performing (Leo). Neptune conjunct the ascendant almost invariably confers a numinous, ethereal, almost mystical persona to its possessor.
The trauma of being raped at the age of eight is seen in Saturn's retrograde position in the fifth house (childhood) in square aspect (90 degrees) to Venus in the eighth house (sex). Her decision to go mute for five years is seen by Mercury, the planet of communication, squaring Saturn (the planet of restriction) from the eighth house, the house which takes things to extremes. It is interesting that she felt so profoundly guilty about her rapist's murder in light of the fact that her Venus is in Pisces, the sign of its exaltation. Venus in Pisces people find it easy to forgive, and it might be said of them that they are able to find something they can love in everyone, no matter how flawed they might be.
There is a grand trine in Angelou's horoscope between the Sun-Jupiter conjunction in the ninth house in Aries, the ascendant in Leo, and Saturn in Sagittarius. This tri-section of the circle in the element of fire represents a closed circuit of emotional and intellectual self-sufficiency, a supreme belief in oneself and one's powers. The fact that Jupiter conjunct's the Sun is further testimony to self-confidence and optimism, which abounds in her writing (see video below).
The Sun-Jupiter conjunction resides on the cusp of her ninth house, the house of exploration, the house of long-distance travel, foreign countries and cultures, the house where one seeks to gather and impart truth and wisdom. This configuration is testament to her constant world travel, her times living for protracted periods in foreign countries, and her ability to learn so many foreign languages. It is also reflective of why she keeps beckoning us through her writing to manifest the better angels of our nature. A solar emphasis in the ninth house such as she possesses always walks the high road of integrity and principle.
Mars in her seventh house reveals a fearlessness in "going out" to meet the world (seventh house). Its opposition to Neptune, however, suggest her eventual disillusionment with the men she coupled with. This is reinforced by the square to Venus from Saturn, which is always problematical in terms of being able to secure happiness in romantic relationships and marriage. She claims only two marriages, but she had a number of "living together" relationships, none of which lasted more than four years and most of which ended still sooner.
There is a T-square between the opposition of the Sun-Jupiter conjunction to the Moon and their square to Pluto. (Sun-Pluto 180 degrees from the Moon; Sun-Jupiter and Moon all 90 degrees from Pluto). This T-square in cardinal signs is driven almost obsessively (Pluto) to make a profound (Pluto) difference within the world one inhabits.
Finally, the Moon's position is always notable in a horoscope, because it reveals the 'reigning psychological need' of the individual. It reveals what we need to feel like we belong. It is indispensable to our psychological well-being. For Maya Angelou, her reigning psychological need' - with her Moon on the cusp of the third house of communication - has been to get her message out, through the form of writing. The extreme proliferation and volume of her writings is seen by the Moon's strong square to Pluto.
This is a powerful horoscope, the fitting astrological signature of one of the world's most truly remarkable individuals.
Photos from mayaangelou.com