Maya Angelou, born April 4, 1928 as Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, was raised in rural Arkansas. She is a poet, historian, author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director. She lectures throughout the US and abroad and is Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina since 1981. She has published ten best selling books and numerous magazine articles earning her Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award nominations. At the request of President Clinton, she wrote and delivered a poem at his 1993 presidential inauguration.
Dr. Angelou, who speaks French, Spanish, Italian and West African Fanti, began her career in drama and dance. She married a South African rebel and lived in Cairo where she was editor of The Arab Observer, the only English-language news weekly in the Middle East. In Ghana, she was feature editor of The African Review and taught at the University of Ghana. In the 1960's, at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ms. Angelou became the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She was appointed by President Gerald Ford to the Bicentennial Commission and by President Jimmy Carter to the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year.
Maya Angelou, poet, was among the first black American women to hit the bestsellers lists with her "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," held the Great Hall audience spellbound with stories of her own childhood. She ranged from story to poem to song and back again, and her theme was love and the universality of all lives. "The honorary duty of a human being is to love," Angelou said. She spoke of her early love for William Shakespeare's works, and offered her audience excerpts from the poems of several black Americans, including James Weldon Johnson and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. But always, she came back to love - and humanity. "I am human," Angelou said, quoting from her own work, "and nothing human can be alien to me."
In the sixties, at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she became the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and in 1975 she received the Ladies Home Journal Woman of the Year Award in communications. She is on the board of the American Film Institute and is one of the few female members of the Director's Guild.
In the film industry, through her work in script writing and directing, Maya Angelou has been a groundbreaker for black women. In television, she has made hundreds of appearances. Her best-selling autobiographical account of her youth, "I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings," won critical acclaim in 1970 and was a two hour TV special on CBS. She has written and produced several prize winning documentaries, including "Afro-Americans in the Arts," a PBS special for which she received the Golden Eagle Award. She was also nominated for an Emmy Award for her acting in Roots, and her screenplay Georgia, Georgia was the first by a black woman to be filmed. In theatre, she produced, directed and starred in "Cabaret for Freedom" in collaboration with Godfrey Cambridge at New York's Village Gate; starred in Genet's "The Blacks" at St Mark's Playhouse; and adapted Sophocles "Ajax" which premiered in Los Angeles in 1974. She wrote the original screenplay for "Georgia, Georgia" and wrote and produced a ten-part TV series on African traditions in American life. Maya Angelou is currently Reynolds Professor at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
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