By Amy Elliot
Maya Angelou, celebrated poet, novelist, activist, performer and friend of presidents, died May 28 at the age of 86.
She is most usually renowned for her part in the Civil Rights movement, during which she worked with both Martin Luther King Jr. (with whom she shares the natal Jupiter-Saturn-Neptune grand trine) and Malcolm X, and for her contribution to literature, most famously in the 1969 autobiographical novel dealing with her early life, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.
That pioneering literary work explored the various challenges and traumas she faced growing up in the segregated South; following its success, she went on to write six more memoirs. All her autobiographies were unique in their use of fiction as critique and enlargement of the genre; they have also been hailed as crucial in allowing black female authors to bring their stories, both fictional and personal, into the public eye.
Her childhood was marred by pain. At eight years old she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend; he was murdered following his conviction for the crime, and for the next five years she was virtually mute, believing that her voice had the power to kill. Though fortunately she was eventually coaxed out of this guilt reaction, she coped with this period in a way that possibly proved to be foundational: she developed a love of literature, read voraciously, and became an acute observer of the world around her.
Angelou published many volumes of poetry over several decades; her “Million Man March” was composed for that event, and she recited the specially written “On the Pulse Of Morning” at Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. She was also a musician, creating movie scores and calypso albums in her own name as well as penning songs for performers such as Roberta Flack. She directed, produced and acted in films and plays. More recently, she even wrote cookbooks. Mentor to Oprah Winfrey and friend to the Clintons and Obamas, during the last third of her life her historic status was established.
Her erudite knowledge, deep wisdom and gravitas led to several news sites describing her as a Renaissance woman; her claim to such a title seems so obvious as to be almost hackneyed. Her family has said she was “a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace.”
Her natal chart is fascinating. Neptune is conjunct the Leo ascendant, implying her strong and fertile imagination and the gift of spirituality. [Ed. note: Angelou’s Neptune is also opposite Ceres in Aquarius, indicating how her imagination fed nearly everyone in Western culture, and how collective struggles in turn fed her creative vision and found a voice.] Also, her Leo ascendant indicates her capacity to entertain and perform.
The Aries Sun, her chart ruler, is closely conjunct Jupiter, which powerfully brings to mind one description of her as a “professional hopemonger.” The Sun is also very tightly square Pluto — to within about 1/6 degree — and along with Jupiter these form a T-square with her natal Moon in Libra. This appears to underscore the intensity, or “Sturm und Drang” as she once put it, with which her life was punctuated.
Mercury is in her 7th house, in Pisces, within a degree and a half of Venus, ruler of her Moon and midheaven; this indicates her communications would always be intertwined with love, emotion, beauty and perhaps a certain mysticism. Using wordcraft to evoke potent and sometimes primal images is the great art of poetry; to this, Angelou brought the immense gifts of compassion and understanding, and a true and complete embrace of the human family.
When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear
— Maya Angelou, from “A Brave and Startling Truth”