Maya Angelou

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Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Annie Johnson, April 4, 1928 St. Louis, MO) is considered one of the most eminent authors and poets, and has long been one of the strongest voices for civil rights activism in America. She is best known for her autobiographical writings, such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) and All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986). Her volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die (1971) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and she has published numerous other collections of verse.

Angelou's early activism led Martin Luther King, Jr. to request that she become the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1960's. In the early and mid-1960s, Angelou was an editor for newspapers in Africa, including The Arab Observer in Cairo, Egypt and The African Review in Accra, Ghana. She returned to the United States in the 1970s, being named a member of the Bicentennial Commission by Gerald Ford and a member of the Commission for International Woman of the Year by Jimmy Carter. She was given a lifetime appointment in 1981 as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She also read one of her poems, entitled On the Pulse of Morning, at Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993, at his request.

In addition to her careers in literature and activism, Angelou has had success as a director, producer, actor, and author for stage, television, and film. She wrote the screenplay and score for the film Georgia, Georgia in 1971: the screenplay was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She was nominated for a Tony Award in 1973 for Look Away (her debut role), and an Emmy for her role in the 1977 miniseries Roots. She was the first African-American woman admitted to the Directors Guild of America.

Angelou was spoofed by comedian Tracy Morgan on the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. Conceptually, the gag was that Angelou (played by Morgan) had been hired as the new spokesperson for Pennzoil motor oils. In character Morgan read a poem dramatically, using Afrocentrism as an analogy for motor oil. Angelou is said to have requested a copy of the sketch on videotape because she so enjoyed it.

On May 6, 2005, Angelou delivered the commencement address at Michigan State University's undergraduate convocation ceremony, at which she was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree.

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