Maya Angelou was born as Marguerite Johnson on April 4th, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri and raised in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas. Maya Angelou became one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time. With over 50 honorary doctorate degrees Dr. Maya Angelou became a celebrated poet, memoirist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist.
Maya Angelou published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim.
She became a poet and writer after a string of odd jobs during her young adulthood. These included fry cook, sex worker, nightclub performer, Porgy and Bess cast member, Southern Christian Leadership Conference coordinator, and correspondent in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa. She was also an actress, writer, director, and producer of plays, movies, and public television programs.
In 1982, she was named the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement and worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Beginning in the 1990s, she made approximately 80 appearances a year on the lecture circuit, something she continued into her eighties. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" (1993) at the first inauguration of Bill Clinton, making her the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961.
With the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou publicly discussed aspects of her personal life. She was respected as a spokesperson for Black people and women, and her works have been considered a defense of Black culture. Her works are widely used in schools and universities worldwide, although attempts have been made to ban her books from some U.S. libraries.
She was recognized by many organizations both nationally and internationally for her contributions to literature. In 1981, Wake Forest University offered Angelou the Reynolds Professorship of American Studies. President Clinton awarded Angelou the National Medal of Arts in 2000. In 2012, she was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Wake Forest University Writers Hall of Fame. The following year, she received the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award for outstanding service to the American literary community. Angelou also gave many commencement speeches and was awarded more than 30 honorary degrees in her lifetime.
Angelou died on May 28, 2014. Several memorials were held in her honor, including ones at Wake Forest University and Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. To honor her legacy, the US Postal Service issued a stamp with her likeness on it in 2015. (The US Postal Service mistakenly included a quote on the stamp that has long been associated with Angelou but was actually first written by Joan Walsh Anglund.) In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Angelou the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. It was a fitting recognition for Angelou’s remarkable and inspiring career in the arts.
National Women's History Museum