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Maya Angelou
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Maya Angelou
(1928 - )

By The Gale Group – Born Marguerite Johnson, Maya Angelou spent her formative years shuttling between St. Louis, Missouri, a tiny, totally segregated town in Arkansas, and San Francisco where she realized her ambition of becoming that city's first black streetcar conductor.

During the 1950s, she studied dancing with Pearl Primus in New York, later appearing as a nightclub singer in New York and San Francisco. She worked as an editor for The Arab Observer, an English-language weekly published in Cairo; lived in Accra, Ghanna, where under the black nationalist regime of Kwame Nkrumah she taught music and drama; and studied cinematography in Sweden. She became a national celebrity in 1970 with the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first volume of her autobiography, which detailed her encounters with southern racism and a rape by her mother's lover.

In 1971, she produced Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie: The Poetry of Maya Angelou; in 1975, Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well; in 1979, And Still I Rise; and in 1983, Shaker Why Don't You Sing? In 1977, she was nominated for an Emmy award for her portrayal of Nyo Boto in the television adaptation of the best-selling novel "Roots."

Three more volumes of her autobiography have been published: Gather Together in My Name (1974); Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas (1976); and The Heart of a Woman (1981). In 1986, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes was published. Angelou's other works include Mrs. Flowers: A Moment of Friendship, and Now Sheba Sings the Song.

On January 20, 1993, Angelou read her poem, "On the Pulse of Morning," during the inauguration of President Bill Clinton.

Source: The African American Almanac, 7th ed., Gale, 1997.

Reprinted by permission of The Gale Group.

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