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Oprah Winfrey Biography

Oprah Gail Winfrey was born January 29, 1954 on the family farm in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Her dad, Vermon Winfrey, who was stationed as a solider at a local base; and her mother, Vernita Lee, were both young at the time of Oprah's birth. Her parents never married. Shortly after she was born her mother found a job, as a maid, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Oprah was left in the care of her grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee.

As a child Oprah never wasted a minute of her young imaginative mind on something that seemed to be boring. Through her early years her only friends were the farm animals. She gave them parts in the plays she made and included them in games. On Sundays Oprah would dress up in her best clothes and go to the Buffalo United Methodist Church, with her grandmother . The church was a very important part of her life, as she grew up.

It was at this church that Oprah first spoke in public. Her first recital was at Easter time when she was three. From that day on, she was always the first child to be asked to recite. She recited verses and poems at churches in the Nashville area. Oprah recalls that the other women in the church would say, "Hattie Mae, that child is gifted." At age four the whole town knew that she was gifted. She became known as "the little speaker."

Oprah enjoyed bringing her recitals to life. Once she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she answered without hesitation, "I want to be paid to talk." At home Oprah was forbidden to talk around adults. Oprah found it hard to understand this, because everyone wanted to hear her talk. She was so talkative and lively all the time. When she disobeyed, Oprah would be whipped. Oprah remembers that she'd whip her dolls the same way her grandmother whipped her.

Hattie Mae read to Oprah and taught her how to recognize letters and sounds. At three Oprah could read. She also learned how to write. On the first day of kindergarten she wrote, "Dear Miss New, I do not think I belong her." She was moved to the first grade, and at the end of the year she was skipped to the third grade.

At age six Oprah was sent to live with her mother in Milwaukee. They lived in one room of another woman's house. Her mother worked long, tiring hours and Oprah was left with her cousins, and neighbors. At night Oprah's mother was too tired to pay attention to her. Oprah didn't understand this. It was then that she began to disobey and talk back to her mother. Her mother knew Oprah was unhappy, and she was sent to live with her father in Nashville, Tennessee. Her father was now married to Zelma, Oprah's stepmother.

Oprah knew that she had to obey her father and stepmother. While living in Nashville Oprah was forced to do pages of addition and subtraction questions each day. On Sundays she went to church, where she attended Sunday School and did recitals. One day, Oprah's mother called and told her that she was pregnant. She wanted Oprah to come back and live with her in a house, not a room. So Oprah went back to live with her mother in Milwaukee.

In Milwaukee Oprah lived with her mother and half sister. While Oprah's mother worked long, hard hours, Oprah entertained her little sister. Two years later her mother had a baby boy. Oprah had a stepbrother. It was then that Oprah was saddened, she felt that her mother didn't give her as much attention as the other children. Oprah fought with her stepbrother and sister. She began telling lies to get what she wanted. It didn't work though. This was when Oprah began to attempt running away. Oprah thought that things could never get worse.

When Oprah was nine a nineteen year old, male, cousin, who was babysitting her, took advantage of her by sexually abusing her. Oprah was terrified and never told a sole. He took her to the zoo, and gave her ice cream so that she'd swear to silence. From then until the day that Oprah left Milwaukee she was raped by her cousin, a family friend, her mom's live in boyfriend, and a once favorite uncle. All four told her that if she ever told, they'd both be in a lot of trouble. Oprah became more of a problem, and her mother didn't know what to do with her anymore. At fourteen her mother looked into sending her to a girls home, but all the beds were full. Then her father called, and it was decided that she'd go back to Nashville.

Oprah knew that in Nashville she had to obey her father and stepmother, and that she could not be a problem any longer. She was given new clothes, a set of rules, a twelve o'clock curfew, and some tasks; she had to read and do a book report on a book each week, as well as memorize five new words each day. If she hadn't done her tasks she would not be given any food. Oprah had good study habits. They probably came from one of the most influential people of her life, her fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Duncan.

Oprah attended Nashville East High School. She was well liked by the students and teachers. She continued with her public speaking to churches and women's groups. At high school Oprah signed up for public speaking and drama classes. She loved performing and having the attention of the audience. In her last year of high school her mind was made up that she had to have a job that had something to do with speaking or drama. This same year she was elected school president, and therefore was sent to the beginning of her career, The White House Conference of Youth. Oprah met with the president, Richard Nixon, and school representatives from all over the country.

The last year of high school brought a lot of fulfillment to Oprah, she went to Hollywood where she saw production studios. When her drama class was rehearsing, a local radio station, WVOL, asked her if she'd like to read on the radio. They gave her a job reading the news. Oprah entered a public speaking contest that had a scholarship to Tennessee State University as a grand prize. She won the scholarship and started taking a degree in Speech Communications and Performing Arts. That year she worked at the radio station and studied at night. Despite all of this she entered the Miss Black Tennessee contest, and, once again, she surprised herself by winning.

The local CBS television station offered her a job as a co-anchor. She turned it down three times but then spoke to her speech professor about it. He told her that this was her chance to launch her career. At age nineteen Oprah finally accepted the job and went to the interview pretending that she was Barbara Walters. Oprah worked late into the night studying for college. She carried out her work on television pretending that she was Barbara Walters until one day she just started to laugh in the middle of the broadcast. Her boss was not impressed.

Oprah was desperately trying to gain her father's freedom. She decided to look for work outside of Nashville. A few months before she graduated with a degree she was offered a full-time job in Baltimore, Maryland as a reporter. She had to decide between the job and graduating; she chose the job because it presented such a great opportunity. Oprah found it hard not to show her opinions, and not to cry while telling a sad story. She wasn't a good reporter, and at twenty-two she was fired from her reporting job. Her boss set her up for a job as a co-host of a morning talk show called "People Are Talking." After the first show Oprah knew that this is what she wanted to do, it was how she could be herself. Oprah made the show popular, and after seven years she decided it was time to more on.

In 1981 Oprah sent "People Are Talking" tapes to a talk show in Chicago called "A.M. Chicago." They immediately offered her the job, and in September of 1985 they changed the name of the show to "The Oprah Winfrey Show." On September 8, 1986 the show was broadcasted nationally. In June of 1987 "The Oprah Winfrey Show" won three Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Direction, Outstanding Host, and Outstanding Talk/Service Program. The following year the show won a Daytime Emmy award for Outstanding Talk/Service Program. In 1988 Oprah received the International Radio and Television Society's "Broadcaster of the Year" Award. She is the youngest person and fifth woman to ever receive this award.

Television history was made when HARPO Productions, Inc. announced that they assumed all production and ownership responsibilities of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Oprah was the first person to run her own show and own her own production company. When Oprah's manager/partner/lawyer told her, "You know, you could own your own show" she thought he was crazy. Oprah didn't think that it was possible, and she told him to, "dream on." Oprah bought HARPO productions because she wanted more control over herself, and her lifestyle.

Oprah remembers standing on her grandmother's porch and thinking, not out of hatred, "My life won't be like this. My life won't be like this, it will be better." Oprah recalls her father being very strict, but today she loves him for it. She says he was a big influence in her life. He always wanted Oprah to make the best of her life, and he wouldn't accept anything less than her best.

Oprah knows that as long as she is making a difference in people's lives she will continue with her show. She started out as a determined little girl who made her dreams come true. Oprah has become a financially successful woman. She has touched many people's lives; she's laughed and cried with them. Today she mentors millions of people worldwide. Her dreams came true because she took a risk, by leaving school and taking a job as a news reporter in Chicago.