5 ways Maya Angelou influenced education

1. She wrote for everyone.

Outside of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings being one of the most-taught books in high schools across the country, Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman collection of poems is iconic in women’s studies; the poem “Phenomenal Woman” was included in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1978.

During the early 1990s, Angelou wrote several books for children, including Life Doesn’t Frighten Me (1993), which also featured the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat; My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me (1994), and Kofi and His Magic (1996), both collaborations with the photographer Margaret Courtney-Clark.

2. She never stopped learning…or teaching.

According to Angelou’s biography, after a series of traumatic events that left her mute for years, Mrs. Flowers, an educated black woman, finally got her to speak again. Mrs. Flowers, as Angelou recalled in her children’s book Mrs. Flowers: A Moment of Friendship (1986), emphasized the importance of the spoken word, explained the nature of and importance of education, and instilled in her a love of poetry. Angelou graduated at the top of her eighth grade class.

Angelou, an educator who served as the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, was also awarded more than 50 honorary degrees.

3. She inspired programs at colleges and universities.

One example is at Winston Salem University, which began the Maya Angelou Institute for the Improvement of Child and Family Education. The mission of the Institute is to improve child and family education through community partnerships, program development and implementation, professional education and research.

The Institute initiates interdisciplinary collaborations within the Winston Salem State University community, with Winston-Salem Forsyth County public elementary schools and community service organizations. The intent of the Institute is to mount initiatives designed to give children and families the tools needed to thrive educationally, socially, physically, and psychologically.

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Meris Stansbury

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