Maya Angelou, born in 1928, American author, poet, and entertainer, best known for her portrayals of strong African American women. Born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, Angelou spent most of her childhood living with her grandmother in rural Arkansas. She moved to her mother's home in San Francisco after graduating with honors from Lafayette County Training School in 1940. At the age of 16 she graduated from high school, gave birth to her son Guy, and began a series of jobs, including cooking and waiting tables. In the 1950s she became a nightclub performer and began careers as a singer, dancer, actor, playwright, magazine editor, civil rights activist, poet, and novelist.
Much of Angelou's writing stresses the themes of courage, perseverance, self-acceptance, and realization of one's full potential. In her works she frequently presents strong female role models. Her most prominent writing includes her series of autobiographical books, which starts with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970) and in which she describes African American life in witty, intelligent language rich in rhythm and texture. The series continues with Gather Together in My Name (1974), Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas (1976), The Heart of a Woman (1981), and All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986).
Angelou's books of poetry include Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie (1971), Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well (1975), And Still I Rise (1978), Shaker, Why Don't You Sing? (1983), Now Sheba Sings the Song (1987), I Shall Not Be Moved (1990), and Phenomenal Woman (1994). The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou appeared in 1994. Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, a book of inspirational meditations on life, was published in 1993. A collection of essays, Even the Stars Look Lonesome, appeared in 1997.
Angelou read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in January 1993. She has received many awards and honorary degrees, including Grammy Awards (1994 and 1996) for her recordings of her poetry on the albums On the Pulse of Morning (1993) and Phenomenal Woman (1995). In 1998 Angelou made her directing debut with the release of the motion picture Down in the Delta. The film is about a troubled woman who returns to the home of her ancestors in the Mississippi Delta.
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