Subscribe to our newsletter
National Book Foundation > Author > Dr. Maya Angelou
Angelou has received more than 30 honorary degrees and has been inducted into the Wake Forest University Hall of Fame for Writers. In 2010 President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor. More about this author >
Born Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri and raised in Stamps, Arkansas, Dr. Maya Angelou was a writer, poet, performer, and teacher. In 1969, with the publication of her groundbreaking literary autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou rose to international prominence as an author. Caged Bird is an intelligent and sophisticated story of how Angelou transformed herself from a victim of racism with an inferiority complex into a self-assured, dignified young woman and civil activist. The book was banned by many schools and colleges because of its frank portrayal of childhood rape, racism, and sexuality. In 2013, at the age of 85, Angelou published her seventh autobiography, Mom & Me & Mom.
Dr. Angelou has also published five books of poetry, including I Shall Not Be Moved, three books of essays, including Letter to My Daughter, a children’s book, and six long-form poems, including “Mother” and “On the Pulse of Morning,” which she read at the 1992 inauguration of President William Jefferson Clinton. Angelou’s reading marked the first time that an African American woman wrote and presented a poem at a Presidential inauguration. She was also the second poet in history to do so, following Robert Frost, who recited a poem at the swearing-in ceremony of John F. Kennedy in 1961. The list of her published verse, non-fiction, and fiction now includes more than 30 bestselling titles.
Angelou’s remarkable career encompasses dance, theater, journalism, and social activism. She appeared in Broadway and Off-Broadway plays, including Cabaret for Freedom, which she wrote with Godfrey Cambridge. She also lived and worked in Cairo and Ghana, first as the associate editor of The Arab Observer and then as features editor and writer for The Ghanaian Times. At the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she served as the Northern Coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1978, she was a National Book Award Judge for Biography and Autobiography.
Angelou has received more than 30 honorary degrees and has been inducted into the Wake Forest University Hall of Fame for Writers. In 2010 President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor.