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Dr. Maya An­gelou is one of the most renowned and in­flu­en­tial voices of our time. Dr. An­gelou is a cel­e­brated poet, mem­oirist, nov­el­ist, ed­u­ca­tor, drama­tist, pro­ducer, ac­tress, his­to­rian, film­maker, and civil rights ac­tivist.

Maya An­gelo, born Mar­guerite An­nie John­son; April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014) was an African-Amer­i­can au­thor, poet, dancer, ac­tress, and singer. She pub­lished seven au­to­bi­ogra­phies, three books of es­says, and several books of po­etry. Ad­di­tion­ally, she was cred­ited with a list of plays, movies, and tele­vi­sion shows span­ning more than 50 years. She was best known for, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)”, tells of her life up to the age of sev­en­teen and brought her in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion and ac­claim. An­gelou be­came a poet and writer after a se­ries of oc­cu­pa­tions as a young adult, in­clud­ing fry cook, pros­ti­tute, night­club dancer and per­former, cast mem­ber of the opera Porgy and Bess. More­over, An­gelou, re­ceived dozens of awards and over fifty honorary de­grees.

From 1982, she taught at Wake For­est Univer­sity in Win­ston-Salem, North Carolina, where she held the first life­time Reynolds Pro­fes­sor­ship of Amer­i­can Stud­ies. She was ac­tive in the Civil Rights move­ment, and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mal­colm X. Be­gin­ning in the 1990s, she made around 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 Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, mak­ing her the first poet to make an in­au­gu­ral recita­tion since Robert Frost at Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy’s in­au­gu­ra­tion 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 many peo­ple and women, and her works have been con­sid­ered a de­fense of Black cul­ture. At­tempts have been made to ban her books from some U.S. li­braries, but her works are widely used in schools and uni­ver­si­ties world­wide. An­gelou’s ma­jor works have been la­beled as au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal fic­tion, but many crit­ics have char­ac­ter­ized them as au­to­bi­ogra­phies. She made a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to chal­lenge the com­mon struc­ture of the au­to­bi­og­ra­phy by cri­tiquing, chang­ing, and ex­pand­ing the genre. Her books cen­ter on themes such as racism, iden­tity, fam­ily, and travel.

Dr. An­gelou ex­pe­ri­enced the bru­tal­ity of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, but she also ab­sorbed the un­shak­able faith and val­ues of tra­di­tional AfricanAmer­i­can fam­ily, com­mu­nity, and cul­ture. As a teenager, Dr. An­gelou’s love for the arts won her a schol­ar­ship to study dance and drama at San Fran­cisco’s La­bor School. At 14, she dropped out to be­come San Fran­cisco’s first African-Amer­i­can fe­male ca­ble car con­duc­tor. She later fin­ished high school, giv­ing birth to her son, Guy, a few weeks after grad­u­a­tion. As a young sin­gle mother, she sup­ported her son by work­ing as a waitress and cook, how­ever her pas­sion for mu­sic, dance, per­for­mance, and po­etry would soon take cen­ter stage. She is the epit­ome of how you can push through what seems to be a “no win” sit­u­a­tion to change the lives of others around you. DT

The phe­nom­e­nal Dr. Maya An­gelou

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