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Definition: Angelou, Maya from Philip's Encyclopedia

US writer, editor, and entertainer. She is best known for six volumes of autobiography, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970). Evoking her childhood in 1930s Arkansas, it relates the rape that left Angelou mute for the next five years. The fourth volume, The Heart of a Woman, deals with her involvement in the 1960s Civil Rights movement as the Northern Coordinator for Martin Luther King, Jr.


Summary Article: Maya Angelou (1928–)
from African American Almanac
Novelist, Poet

Born Marguerite Johnson, Angelou spent her formative years shuttling between St. Louis, Missouri, a tiny, totally segregated town in Arkansas, and San Francisco, where she realized her ambition of becoming that city's first black streetcar conductor.

During the 1950s she studied dancing with Pearl Primus in New York, later appearing as a nightclub singer in New York and San Francisco. She worked as an editor for The Arab Observer, an English-language weekly published in Cairo; lived in Accra, Ghana, where under the Black Nationalist regime of Kwame Nkrumah she taught music and drama; and studied cinematography in Sweden. She became a national celebrity in 1970 with the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first volume of her autobiography, which detailed her encounters with southern racism and a prepubescent rape by her mother's lover.

Angelou pursued her passion in music, performance, poetry, and music, which included writing the first script by an African American woman to be filmed and subsequently nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1972. In 1971 she wrote Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Die: The Poetry of Maya Angelou; in 1975, Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well; in 1979, And Still I Rise; and in 1983, Shaker Why Don't You Sing? In 1977 she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her portrayal of Nyo Boto in the television adaptation of the bestselling novel Roots. In 1993 Angelou appeared in John Singleton's film Poetic Justice, then she directed her first feature film, Down in the Delta in 1996; and in 2008 she narrated the award-winning documentary The Black Candle.

Three more volumes of her autobiography have been published: Gather Together in My Name (1974); Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (1976); and The Heart of a Woman (1981). In 1986 All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes was published. Angelou's other works include Mrs. Flowers: A Moment of Friendship, Now Sheba Sings the Song, and Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now.

On January 20, 1993, Angelou read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” during the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, which was broadcast all over the world. She was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP in 1994, the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000, the Mother Theresa Award in 2006, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and she also received three Grammy Awards. Angelou has received numerous honorary degrees and continues to be celebrated for her many contributions. She is the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.

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