A Journey Towards Meaning: An Existential Psychobiography of Maya Angelou


  • Nadene Harisunker
  • Carol du Plessis


This psychobiography focuses on meaning making in the early life and young adulthood of acclaimed African American author Maya Angelou (1928-2014) through the lens of Frankl’s existential psychology with a specific focus on the tri-dimensional nature of human beings and the fundamental triad. The primary data source was Angelou’s own published autobiographies, which contain an in-depth narrative of her early life and young adulthood. Data was extracted, organised and analysed according to established qualitative research methods as well as through the identification of psychological saliences. The search for meaning within Angelou’s own narrative of her life was clearly apparent in the thematic analysis. Angelou’s narrative of her journey through the physical (childhood and adolescence), psychological (travelling and searching years) and spiritual (sensemaking years) dimensions was core to her meaning making. The three tiers of the fundamental triad (awareness of meaning, will to meaning, freedom of will) were present in various aspects of Angelou’s existential journey, manifesting as a focus on choice, responsibility, purpose, and acceptance. This study provides a more in-depth understanding of meaning making processes in the lives of extraordinary individuals, as well as contributing to the development of the research method of psychobiography, with a specific focus on meaning making.