Writer’s Series: Maya Angelou



  • Born in 1928
  • Education: high school
  • First publication: I know why the caged bird sings (1970)


Maya Angelou was already in her 40ies, too, when she wrote her first book. It was an autobiography. She has written mostly autobiography. She didn’t come from an intellectual background at all. For all I could find out, she finished high school and that’s it. From then on she worked in all kinds of professions and lived in many different places all over America. A point was made that even though she didn’t have a university degree, she was  later on appointed as a professor of English.


I, personally, had not heard of her until her death. It may be my fault, but she wasn’t really present in the book market in Germany or any other country I lived in around Europe. This is reflected in the lack of translations of her work into German. As far as I know, only her most famous first book I know why the caged bird sings has been translated into German.


Besides my interest in the birth of the writer or the transformation of an ordinary person into an artist, I am also quite interested in the writing habits of authors. Many readers will have heard of the book about the daily rituals of famous intellectuals. I don’t know, what pattern the choice of the people was based on. Maybe none. I am particularly interested in what writing habits there are. How writers make time for writing and how much they write or how much of their time they spend actually writing. I personally find writing a draining and exhausting task, so I cannot imagine any writer to follow a “normal” 8-hour workday routine.

In any case… Maya Angelou described her writing habit in an interview with the Paris review. She says that she leaves the house around six and starts her day’s work at around 6.30am. She works until 12.30 or 1.30pm and then goes home, takes a shower and “plays sane”. That means she goes shopping and runs errands of all sort. In the afternoon she looks at the writing has done in the morning and starts editing, dismissing etc. That’s 6 to 7 hours of writing a day. Straight up writing. Not counting in the editing in the afternoon.