April Author Spotlight: Hans Christian Anderson and Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

Born in St.Louis, Missouri, United States, Marguerite Annie Johnson is a very well-known female author of her times. She was a memoirist, activist, poet and author. She has written seven autobiographies, three essay books, and author of various plays and T.V. shows. She was also a very prolific women’s right activist and a great supporter of the Civil Rights Movement.

She was born to Bailey and Vivian Johnson and had an elder brother who nicknamed her Maya. Her parents had a disturbed marriage which ended when she was merely three years old. Her mother, brother and she were sent to their paternal grandmother who lived in Stamps, Arkansas. Annie Johnson, Maya’s grandmother was a fairly settled lady because of her store which prospered during the Great Depression and World War II as it sold basic supplies.

Her childhood was disturbed when she was sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend who was sentenced to jail only for one day. He was murdered four days after his release, and Maya believed her uncles had murdered him. Because of this, she fell selectively dumb and did not speak for five years because she thought that she was responsible for the man’s death. During this period she developed a great love for the writing arts and mastered the art of observation. Her first biography, I know why Caged Birds Sing, focuses on this period of her life.

At the age of 17, she gave birth to a boy, Guy Johnson. Maya went through a lot of professions including a streetcar conductor, sex worker, table dancer, fry cook and an actor for the play, Porgy and Bess. She wrote Gather Together in my Name, about her life as a sex worker.

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In her adulthood, she married a Greek sailor and electrician with whom she moved to New York, to learn African dance, and moved back to San Francisco a year later. After her marriage ended she danced professionally to Calypso music all over San Francisco and earned name the ‘Rita’ which she later changed to Maya Angelou. In the year 1959, she met John Olliver Killens who encouraged her writing, on whose insistence she joined the Harlem Writers Guild.

This is where she met prolific African-American authors like Jullian Mayfield, Rosa Guy, and Paule Marshall.
In 1960, she met Martin Luther King Jr. whose influence brought about the activist in her. During this period she began her anti-Castro and anti-apartheid agitations. In 1961, she concentrated on her performing arts and was a part of several famous plays like The Blacks by Janet Jean. She then married an African, Vusumzi Make and moved to Cairo where she edited The Arab Observer and later the Ghanian Times.

In Accra, she met Malcolm X with whom she started the Organisation the African American Unity, in the U.S. Her friendship with Martin Luther King Jr. also evolved and she was asked to organize a march protest. Soon Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on her birthday, which sent her spiraling into depression. It is said that during this period of depression, Maya Angelou produced her greatest works.

Maya Angelou Book
Maya Angelou’s popular book

In her later career, she won many accolades for her masterpieces- more than 50 honorary degrees and the Reynolds Professorship of Wake Forest University. During this period she also produced many T.V. shows, songs, and plays. She also produced a film called Down in the Delta and produced eleven tracks which were responsible for her fame on the Billboard.

Her works include:
• I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969): Up to 1944 (age 17)
• Gather Together in My Name (1974): 1944–48
• Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (1976): 1949–55
• The Heart of a Woman (1981): 1957–62
• All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986): 1962–65
• A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002): 1965–68
• Mom & Me & Mom (2013)
These are a few of her most popular works but also included are her poetry, plays, memoirs etc.
Apart from being an accomplished writer, she was also a fierce champion of women rights, African-American rights, and feminism rights. Her works have inspired many women to do great things in life. She died on May 28th , 2014 at the age of 86.

Hans Christian Anderson

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Hans Christian Anderson is a well-known Danish writer of poems, novels, plays, books, and travelogues. But what he is more famous for are children fairytales like, ‘The Ugly Duckling’, ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Thumbelina’, ‘ The Emperor’s new Clothes’, ‘The Snow Queen’ etc.

He was born in the town of Odense, Denmark on 2nd April 1805 to a poor couple. Hans went to elementary school and learned English Literature, which was greatly encouraged by his father who read ‘The Arabian Nights’ to him. At the age of 14, he left his hometown and went to Copenhagen to be an apprentice for a weaver and then a tailor. There he was told that he had an excellent soprano voice and joined The Royal Danish Theatre. His director, who had great affection towards Hans, then sent him to grammar school, which greatly helped his writing career. But Hans had described his time in a school a depressing period as his faculty wasn’t helpful at all, and this sent him into depression.

Hans Christian Anderson
Hans Christian Anderson’s famous books

His very first fairytale was called ‘The Tallow Candle’, then came his second short story called, ‘A Journey on Foot from Holmen’s Canal to the East Point of Amager’ for which he enjoyed some success. The initial fairy tales that he had penned were a retelling of the stories he had heard as a child. In the meantime, he stuck to the theater and was soon given a small grant from the king himself to tour Europe. This tour led to the writing of ‘Agnete and the Merman’ and ‘The Bays of Fables’. His autobiography of this time led to his instant success, it was called ‘The Improvisatore’.

In the year 1835, he published two installments of his fairytale collection. It included the stories of ‘The Thumbelina’, ‘The little Mermaid’ etc.
In 1839, he visited Scandinavia and wrote a poem about the three sisters which was later set to a musical tune and became a part of the National Anthem. During this time his works were being actively translated which also contributed a lot to his success.

In the year 1851, he published his first travelogue, ‘In Sweden’, which was followed by ‘Swiss Saxony’, ‘A visit to Portugal in 1866’ etc. indicating his great love for traveling and writing about his experiences.

Hans Christian Anderson

Not much is known about his personal life. But his death is accounted for in the year 1875.
His works in the world of fairy tales are one which still persists today in the young minds of children.

Are you a writing aficionado as well? Take a look at our must-read books for every writing enthusiast. Ardent readers can give these a try as well!

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