Maya Angelou, born April 4, 1928 as Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis,
is an author, poet, historian, conductor, actor, singer,
songwriter, playwright, film director, and civil rights activist. Born in a segregated rural
area of St. Louis, Missouri, she comes from a broken home, was raped at eight, and was an unwed
mother at 16 years old. Throughout all these circumstances she still managed to become San
Francisco's first black woman conductor. She was also the first black woman to have an original
screenplay produced in 1971, Georgia, Georgia. She has several volumes of poetry and some of
her composed music was recorded by B.B. King. She was also nominated for an Emmy Award for her
acting in Roots and Georgia. She is fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, and West African Fanti.
One of Maya Angelou's books, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, an account of her youth, describes
the trauma of being raped as a child, the violent death of her attacker, and her subsequent
refusal to speak for five years. It has been the target of many censorship attacks. In one case,
Round Rock, Texas parents thought that the book was "pornographic" and "just plain filth." The
book was also filmed as a two hour special for CBS. Currently, Ms. Angelou lectures throughout
the United States and abroad and recently has been named a Reynolds professor of American Studies
at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.
Maya Angelou, poet, was among the first African-American women to hit the bestsellers lists
with her "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," and she 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 African-Americans, including James Weldon
Johnson and Paul Lawrence Dunbar.
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