How Well Do You Know Maya Angelou?

From calypso to civil rights to a love of sherry, the renowned writer led a multilayered and dynamic life.

Maya Angelou 
Maya Angelou  Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Poet and author Maya Angelou, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 86, was best-known for her writing. But she lived many lives. From her stint as a calypso dancer to her civil rights activism, she had adventures, interests and other life experiences that transcended the world of words. Her biggest fans already know these 11 details of her life, and the rest of us can use them as a starting point to begin to paint a fuller picture of her rich, multilayered time on this earth.

1. Ever-Changing Names

Angelou was born Marguerite Ann Johnson. Her brother Bailey nicknamed her “Maya.” When she began her career as a nightclub calypso singer and dancer in San Francisco, she dropped “Marguerite” and took on the stage name Maya Angelou.

2. A High School Education With a Cable Car Break

Angelou dropped out of high school. At the age of 16, she became the first black streetcar operator in San Francisco. She did give high school another try, however, and graduated a few weeks before giving birth to her son, Guy.

3. Civil Rights Leadership and a Friendship With Malcolm X

Angelou was active in the civil rights movement. She became the Northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization central to Martin Luther King Jr.’s success. She also worked with Malcolm X. After meeting him in Ghana, she planned to return to the U.S. to help him develop his new Organization of Afro-American Unity. Unfortunately, Malcolm X was assassinated not long after they started working together.

4. Appearances on Everyone’s Favorite Kids’ Show

Angelou was a guest star on Sesame Street many times in the 1990s. Watch a video of her 1999 appearance: