It’s only fitting that the first week of U.S. National Poetry Month in April coincides with what would have been the 90th birthday of the poet Maya Angelou, who died May 28, 2014, at the age of 86.
But while she’s best known today for her writing — as the author of more than 30 books and the recipient of more than 50 honorary degrees — she had many different careers before becoming a writer, and all before the age of 40, as TIME pointed out in her 2014 obituary. Such jobs included: cook, waitress, sex-worker, dancer, actor, playwright, editor at an English-language newspaper in Egypt, Calypso singer, and cast member of the opera Porgy and Bess. In fact, her name is more of a stage name than a pen name; she was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis in 1928, but in the 1950s came up with “Maya Angelou,” which is a portmanteau of sorts, by combining her childhood nickname and a riff on her then-husband’s surname.
In a Google Doodle marking her April 4 birthday, she can be heard reading “Still I Rise,” alongside testimonials from her son Guy Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, Laverne Cox, Alicia Keys, America Ferrera, and Martina McBride. The 15-time Grammy-winner Keys calls her a “renaissance woman,” while 14-time Grammy nominee McBride says Angelou inspired her to write her own songs. Winfrey, who has called Angelou a mentor, says that “Maya Angelou is not what she has done or written or spoken, it’s how she did it all. She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence, and a fiery, fierce grace and abounding love.”
Here are five things to know about the literary legend:
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was her first book
As the world marks her birthday in 2018, Maya Angelou’s breakout work is particularly relevant to the national conversation. Long before the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements brought sexual assault into the national conversation, she wrote in her 1969 memoir about her own experience with sexual trauma, and how her mother’s boyfriend raped her when she was a child. He was convicted and imprisoned, and after his release he was beaten to death, a series of events that led her to stop talking for a period.
“I thought I had caused his death because I told his name to the family…” she wrote in a 2013 op-ed in The Guardian. “I decided that my voice was so powerful that it could kill people.”
In an interview with Winfrey, Angelou said that, while some places banned the book because of the rape scene, she also believed the book had saved lives by providing a model of endurance. “I just read someplace that after a woman had read Caged Bird, she realized she wasn’t alone,” she told the media mogul. As she once said in another interview, “the encountering may be the very experience which creates the vitality and the power to endure.”
She was San Francisco’s first female African-American cable car conductor
“I loved the uniforms,” she once said to Oprah Winfrey, explaining why she wanted this particular job as a 16-year-old. Per her mother’s advice, she went to the city office that hired cable car conductors and sat there reading Russian literature until they agreed to hire her. Her mother got up with her at 4:00 a.m. for her daybreak shifts and trailed her in her car “with her pistol on the passenger seat” to keep an eye on her.
Continue onto TIME to read the complete article.