American writer, Maya Angelou survived a tough childhood and early adulthood to become a singer, actress, activist, and writer. In 1993, she came to much wider attention when she recited a poem of her own composition at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton.
Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928, and is best known for her series of six autobiographical volumes, which focuses on her childhood and early adulthood experiences. The first, best-known, and most highly acclaimed, ” Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”(1969), focuses on the first seventeen years of her life, brought her international recognition, and was nominated for a National Book Award. Angelou has been highly honored for her body of work, including being awarded over 30 honorary degrees and the nomination of a Pulitzer Prize for her 1971 volume of poetry, “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie.”
Angelou was a member of the Harlem Writers Guild in the late 1950s, was active in the Civil Rights movement, and served as Northern Coordinator of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Since 1991, Angelou has taught at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, as recipient of the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies. Since the 1990s she has made around eighty appearances a year on the lecture circuit. In 1993, she recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. In 1995, she was recognized for having the longest-running record (two years) on The New York Times Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller List.
With the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou was heralded as a new kind of memoirist, one of the first African American women who was able to publicly discuss her personal life. She became recognized and highly respected as a spokesperson for black people and women. Angelou’s work is often characterized as autobiographical fiction. Angelou has, however, made a deliberate attempt through her work to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre. Her books, centered on themes such as identity, family, and racism, are often used as set texts in schools and universities internationally. Some of her more controversial work has been challenged or banned in US schools and libraries.