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Maya Angelou's journey from a waitress to a legendary writer is still inspiring the world

The author of 'I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings' had a career that inspires many in the world to not give up because of circumstances.

Maya Angelou's journey from a waitress to a legendary writer is still inspiring the world
Cover Image Source: American poet and author Maya Angelou gestures while speaking in a chair during an interview at her home. (Photo by Jack Sotomayor/New York Times Co./Getty Images)

History has been a witness to the women who broke the social barriers to make their mark on the world. Renowned American author Maya Angelou is one such influential woman. While many know about her remarkable literary works, her career trajectory before she started her literary journey is not popularly known. One would be surprised by the versatile jobs she did before becoming an author and the book, "Maya Angelou: Writer and Activist" by Del Sandeen speaks volumes about the poet's unconventional career path, per History. To name a few, Angelou delved into acting, dancing, journalism and even was a streetcar conductor, all while it was not common for women to work outside their homes.

Image Source: American poet Maya Angelou reciting her poem 'On the Pulse of Morning' at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in Washington DC, 20th January 1993. (Photo by Consolidated News Pictures/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Image Source: American poet Maya Angelou reciting her poem 'On the Pulse of Morning' at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in Washington DC, 20th January 1993. (Photo by Consolidated News Pictures/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

As a teen, Angelou was determined to take up the role of a street car conductor. While it was rare to find a woman streetcar conductor, Angelou was resolute in visiting the railway office several times to apply for the conductor job and eventually secured it. As per the National Women's History Museum, the "Letter to My Daughter" author became the first African American streetcar conductor in San Fransisco. However, as a high school student Angelou prioritized completing her education in 1945 and earning her diploma from George Washington High School. So, the conductor job didn't last long. However, the resilient woman kept toiling hard even after welcoming her child Clyde “Guy” Johnson. As a teenage mother, Angelou worked as a cook before she began her cocktail waitress job in Los Angeles.

Image Source: Women street car conductors were first hired to replace men who were fighting in World War I. (Photo by Michael Nicholson/Corbis via Getty Images)
Image Source: Women street car conductors were first hired to replace men who were fighting in World War I. (Photo by Michael Nicholson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Though Angelou wasn't so proud of her job as a cocktail waitress in a nightclub, she found it to be essential to support herself and her child. However, her regret amplified and once she made enough money to buy a car, she returned to the place where she spent most of her childhood: Stamps, Arkansas. However, the poet found her calling in San Fransisco after working some temporary jobs in restaurants, clothing stores and real estate offices. Purple Onion, a nightclub in San Fransisco offered Angelou a job as a dancer and calypso singer though she wasn't trained much in vocals but had taken some dancing lessons in her youth. This job became a turning point in her life because it got her a small part in the "Porgy and Bess" musical in 1954. Shortly after divorcing her husband Tosh Angelos that year, Angelou's job demanded her to travel all over Europe. However, the guilt of a mother took over her and she was determined to not leave her son in the U.S. during her travels.

Image Source: American poet and singer Maya Angelou wears a red dress while dancing next to a fire in a promotional portrait taken for the cover of her album, 'Miss Calypso,' 1957. (Photo by Gene Lester/Getty Images)
Image Source: American poet and singer Maya Angelou wears a red dress while dancing next to a fire in a promotional portrait taken for the cover of her album, 'Miss Calypso,' 1957. (Photo by Gene Lester/Getty Images)

So, the doting mother stayed back in America and continued her singing and dancing gigs. It was when they moved to New York City in 1959 that Angelou's writing endeavors spawned a little. She took part in the Civil Rights Movement by organizing fundraising events, writing letters, managing volunteers and so on. Teaming up with a South African activist named Vusumzi Make whom she was in love with, Angelou traveled across Africa and landed the role of an editor in The Arab Observer newspaper. Despite having no experience in journalism, Angelou chose to learn and grow in her job. It was a foundation for her career as an enthusiastic writer. So, when political activist Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, Angelou was emotionally impacted and she chose to bare her soul by writing. It was how her masterpiece "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," was born and since then Angelou had chosen her pen as her weapon to share the stories that needed to be told.

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