Remembering Maya: Four Fascinating Facts About The Storyteller’s Life

On October 8th, 2002, prolific author and activist Dr. Maya Angelou walked into The Landmark and checked in for her short stay. She had arrived in Marquette to deliver a talk at Northern Michigan University’s Berry Events Center, and we were fortunate enough to host her for the night!


In remembrance of Dr. Angelou’s impactful life and legacy, here are a few things you might not know about her…


Her birth name was not Maya.


Yes, you read that correctly! Dr. Maya Angelou was born to Bailey and Vivian Johnson as Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4th, 1928. She would later become known by her “professional name” in 1952, after combining her brother’s childhood nickname for her, “Maya”, short for “my sister”, and “Angelos”, the last name of her husband Tosh Angelos, though they would later divorce.


She wasn’t just a poet.


While Dr. Angelou’s fame arose from her lyrical gifts, her talents were far beyond poetry. She wrote 36 books during her lifetime, and only 18 of those are poetic works. Not only did she pen 7 autobiographical memoirs, but she was also responsible for a handful of children’s books, cookbooks, essay collections, documentaries, plays, and even dabbled in television and film, lending her creativity both off and on-screen to works like Sister, Sister and Madea’s Family Reunion.



In 2011, Dr. Angelou founded a charity that has since changed hundreds of lives.


The Dr. Maya Angelou Foundation defines their foundational principles in four words:   Change, curiosity, courage, creativity. Though Dr. Angelou passed away in 2014, her legacy lives on through this organization, which philanthropically “support[s] educational excellence and healthcare equity initiatives for all.”[1] via scholarships for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Additionally, her collaboration with the foundation led to the creation of various healthcare centers and resources intended for minimizing healthcare disparities for marginalized people.

Soon, you might find her in your pocket.


This year, The United States Mint will be distributing quarters that honor the accomplishments of impactful women through their American Women Quarters Program. The first of these iconic currencies? Dr. Angelou herself. Artist (and Michigan native) Emily Damstra designed Dr. Angelou’s image for the coin, which “depicts Maya Angelou with her arms uplifted. Behind her are a bird in flight and a rising sun, images inspired by her poetry and symbolic of the way she lived”[2].


In recognition of Black History Month, we encourage you to learn more about Dr. Angelou’s incredible life, but it’s important to commemorate her activism and work outside of this time, too. You can find ways to support her vision by visiting her foundation’s website,, picking up one of her books, sharing stories with a stranger, finding beauty in the mundane, reading up on civil rights, or making art.


As Dr. Angelou once wrote, “The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise.”