Born marguerite Johnson (some sources say Marguerita) April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri to Bailey Baxter and Vivian Johnson. Her father was a doorkeeper and a naval dietitian, and her mother, a nurse ad Realtor. Maya as so she was called received her pseudonym from her brother Bailey Jr. who preferred "Maya" to "my sister." With the divorce of her parents Maya and her brother were sent to live with her paternal grandmother who lovingly they grew to call "mama" in rural Stamps, Arkansas. This significant period in her life is retold and recaptured in her best selling autobiography " I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings " In the In the book, Maya recalls the tragic incident of her rape at the disturbingly young age of eight years old. She was violated by one of her mother's friends during one of her sporadic stays in St. Louis with her estranged parent. Afterward she confided in her dear brother the details of the atrocious ordeal, and shortly thereafter, the perpetrator of her abuse was found dead. With the knowledge of what had occurred Maya actually believed that her own physical voice had brought about the man's deserving death. This idea so troubled her that she simply stopped talking for years. This disturbing thought was silenced when a voice of inspiration told her that is she loved poetry like she said she did then she would share it with the world, and so she did.
She moved back into her mother's home in San Francisco after graduating with honors from Lafayette County Training School in 1940. At the ripe young age of 16, Angelou, unwed at the time, gave birth to her son Clyde (later known as Guy). At the same time, she graduated high school. By the time she was in her early twenties, Maya Angelou had been a Creole cook, a streetcar conductor, a cocktail waitress, a dancer, a madam, a tap dancer, a prostitute, and a chauffeurette.
Her second book, "Gather Together In My Name," centers on her later teen years through her mid twenties, focusing on these experiences.