Black US writer, whose status as a national icon was confirmed by her reading one of her poems, ‘On the Pulse of the Morning’, at President Clinton's inauguration in 1993.
Born in St Louis, Missouri, she adopted her brother's pet name for her, Maya, and the surname of her first husband, who was of Greek descent. Raped at eight, knifed by her father's mistress, and a mother at sixteen, she was brought up in Arkansas and California. Maya Angelou is best known for the first volume of her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970). This humorous and compassionate account of the personal traumas of her youth is set against the background of the South during the years of the Great Depression. Four subsequent volumes chronicle her ‘roller-coaster life’, in which she progresses from a street-car conductor, waitress, prostitute, madame, actress, and nightclub singer to become a member of the Harlem Writers' Guild, dance student with Martha Graham, dance teacher in Italy and Israel, civil-rights activist, and Ghana-based editor of African Review. During this period she contracted three marriages.
Angelou became a college professor in 1981, since when she has continued to produce volumes of poetry, such as I Shall Not Be Moved (1990); in 1993 she published a further volume of reminiscence, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now. A widely celebrated lecturer, she has also written two books for children, four stage plays, and five plays for television. In 1996 she was appointed Honorary Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).