English I Benchmark

    "New Directions"

    New Directions by Maya Angelou 1 In 1903 the late Mrs. Annie Johnson of Arkansas found herself with two toddling sons, very little money, a slight ability to read and add simple numbers. To this picture add a disastrous marriage and the burdensome fact that Mrs. Johnson was a Negro. 2 When she told her husband, Mr. William Johnson, of her dissatisfaction with their marriage, he conceded that he too found it to be less than he expected, and had been secretly hoping to leave and study religion. He added that he thought God was calling him not only to preach but to do so in Enid, Oklahoma. He did not tell her that he knew a minister in Enid with whom he could study and who had a friendly, unmarried daughter. They parted amicably, Annie keeping the one-room house and William taking most of the cash to carry himself to Oklahoma. 3 Annie, over six feet tall, big-boned, decided that she would not go to work as a domestic and leave her “precious babes” to anyone else’s care. There was no possibility of being hired at the town’s cotton gin or lumber mill, but maybe there was a way to make the two factories work for her. In her words, “ I looked up the road I was going and back the way I come, and since I wasn’t satisfied, I decided to step off the road and cut me a new path.” She told herself that she wasn’t a fancy cook but that she could “mix groceries well enough to scare hungry away and keep from starving a man.” 4 She made her plans meticulously and in secret. One early evening to see if she was ready, she placed stones in two five-gallon pails and carried them three miles to the cotton gin. She rested a little, and then, discarding some rocks, she walked in the darkness to the saw mill five miles farther along the dirt road. On her way back to her little house and her babies, she dumped the remaining rocks along the path. 5 That same night she worked into the early hours boiling chicken and frying ham. She made dough and filled the rolled-out pastry with meat. At last she went to sleep. 6 The next morning she left her house carrying the meat pies, lard, an iron brazier, and coals for a fire. Just before lunch she appeared in an empty lot behind the cotton gin. As the dinner noon bell rang, she dropped the savors into boiling fat and the aroma rose and floated over the the workers who spilled out of the gin, covered with white lint, looking like specters. 7 Most workers had brought their lunches of pinto beans and biscuits or crackers, onions and cans of sardines, but they were tempted by the hot meat pies, which Annie ladled out of the fat. She wrapped them in newspapers, which soaked up the grease, and offered them for sale at a nickel each. Although business was slow, those first days Annie was determined. She balanced her appearances between the two hours of activity. 8 So, on Monday if she offered hot fresh pies at the cotton gin and sold the remaining cooled -down pies at the lumber mill for three cents, then on Tuesday she went first to the lumber mill presenting fresh, just-cooked pies as the lumbermen covered in sawdust emerged from the mill. 9 For the next few years, on balmy spring days, blistering summer noons, and cold, wet, and wintry middays, Annie never disappointed her customers, who could count on seeing the tall, brown-skin woman bent over her brazier, carefully turning the meat pies. When she felt that the workers had become dependent on her, she built a stall between the two hives of industry and let the men run to her for their lunchtime provisions. She had indeed stepped from the road which seemed to have been chosen for her and cut herself a brand-new path. In years that stall became a store where customers could buy cheese, meal, syrup, cookies, candy, writing tablets, pickles, canned goods, fresh fruit, soft drinks, coal, oil, and leather soles for worn-out shoes. 10 Each of us has the right and the responsibility to assess the roads which lie ahead, and those over which we have traveled, and if the future road looms ominous or unpromising, and the roads back uninviting, then we need to gather our resolve and, carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. If the new choice is also unpalatable, without embarrassment, we must be ready to change that as well. domestic: household servant, such as a maid or cook cotton: factory in which machines are used to separate the seeds from the fibers of cotton brazier: cooking device used to grill food over burning coals. specters: ghosts. unpalatable: unpleasant; unacceptable.
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    Maya Angelou Biography

    1 Maya was born on April 4th, 1928, in San Francisco to Bailey Johnson (a navy dietitian and a doorman) and Vivian Baxter (a card dealer and a nurse). Maya’s name was Marguerite Annie Johnson, but her brother fondly called her Maya, a name she took on as she grew older. 2 Maya’s life was an inspiration to people around the world. At the time of her death, people from all over the world echoed her poems. Everyone felt they could relate to her deeply felt emotions. Maya Angelou’s poems were called the national anthems of the African American people. “A bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has song” said Maya. 3 Like the smile which hides the pain, Maya, too, hid her troubles from the world. At the age of three, when racial discrimination was at its peak, Maya's parents went through a divorce. She was sent with her four-year-old brother to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. In Stamps, Maya experienced racial discrimination that was the legally enforced way of life in the South. During this time, Maya learned to have tremendous faith and to use the old-fashioned courtesy of traditional African-American life. Maya credits her grandmother and her extended family for teaching her all the values that she used throughout her life. 4 At age seven, while visiting her mother in Chicago, Maya was abused by her mother's boyfriend. Too ashamed to tell any adults in her life, she confided in her brother. When she was hospitalized, however, the abuse was revealed. She later heard that her uncle killed her mother's boyfriend. Fearing that it was her words that killed a man, she did not speak for five years. 5 At age thirteen, Maya began to speak again. After this, Maya and her brother began living with their mother in San Francisco. During her senior year of high school, Maya became pregnant and gave birth to her son Guy just a few weeks before graduation. She left home at age sixteen to lead the difficult life of a single mother. To support herself and her son, she worked a variety of jobs including being a waitress and a cook. Even during these difficult times, she did not give up on her talents for poetry, music, and performing. 6 In 1952, she married a Greek sailor named Anastasios Angelopulos. When she began her career as a nightclub singer, she took the professional name Maya Angelou, combining her childhood nickname with a form of her husband's name. While the marriage did not last, she kept the stage name she had started her career with. She had composed song lyrics and poems for many years, and by the end of the 1950s was increasingly interested in developing her skills as a writer. 7 Maya was an avid reader of books by Shakespeare and Dickens amongst others and her earnest passion for dancing led her to go on tour to Europe with the opera Porgy and Bess. She took an extra effort to learn the native languages of all the places she visited while on tour. She easily bonded with everyone because of her extremely friendly nature. 8 She became a writer for the Arab Observer in Egypt during tumultuous times. She had said, “I make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music.” After meeting Malcolm X, she felt the need to do something creditable and constructive for her brothers who were struggling with racial discrimination in the United States. She joined Malcolm X in the fight for freedom for African Americans; she remained an activist for equality the rest of her life. 9 Maya Angelou advocated living life gracefully. Angelou received several accolades being the first black woman to write for a Swedish production called Georgia, winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2011, being nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Just Give Me A Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Die, the National Medal of Arts was given to her, receiving more than fifty honorary titles, and receiving three Grammy awards. Maya truthfully said “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
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    14. Place these events from the passage in the correct order:

    a. Fearing that it was her words that killed a man, she did not speak for five years. b. Although the marriage did not last, she kept the stage name she had started her career with. c. Maya's name was Marguerite Annie Johnson, but her brother fondly called her Maya, a name shetook as she grew older. d. Maya received several accolades including being the first black woman to write for a Swedish production called "Georgia, Georgia," winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom . . ., and receiving three Grammy awards." e. To support herself and her son, she worked a variety of jobs including being a waitress and cook.
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