Angelou, Maya

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Angelou, Maya

Maya Angelou (mī´ə ăn´jəlōō), 1928–2014, African-American writer and performer, b. St. Louis, Mo., as Marguerite Johnson. She toured Europe and Africa in the musical Porgy and Bess (1954–55), then sang in New York City nightclubs, joined the Harlem Writers Guild, and took part in several off-Broadway productions, including Genet's The Blacks and her own Cabaret for Freedom (1960). During the 1960s she was active in the African-American political movement; she subsequently moved to Cairo where she edited The Arab Observer and then spent several years in Ghana as editor of the African Review. During the 1970s she appeared on Broadway, in several feature films, and in the TV miniseries Roots. Although she wrote poems, plays, and short stories, all in a lush and lyrical style that was both lauded and criticized, she is best known for her six autobiographical volumes (1970–2002), the first and most popular of which, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which tells of her childhood in the segregated South. Her several volumes of poetry include And I Still Rise (1978). Angelou read her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at the inauguration of President Clinton in 1993. President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

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