Ms. Maya Angelou is hailed as one of the great voices of contemporary literature and as a remarkable Renaissance woman. Being a poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director, she continues to travel the world making appearances on college campuses, spreading her legendary wisdom. A mesmerizing vision of grace, swaying and stirring when she moves, Ms. Angelou captivates her audiences lyrically” with vigor, fire, and perception. She has the unique ability to shatter the opaque prisms of race and class between reader and subject throughout her books of poetry and her autobiographies. Ms. Angelou’s background is as complex as the woman herself Born in St. Louis, she spent her early childhood in Stamps, Arkansas. Her family then moved to San Francisco. Determined to carve out a stage career, Ms. Angelou studied drama and dance.
In 1952, her career took a significant upturn when she received a scholarship to study dance with Pearl Primus in New York. She then joined the 22-country European tour of “Porgy and Bess.” In this politically active period, Ms. Angelou met and married a South African freedom fighter and went to live in Cairo and then Ghana. In both countries, she continued her writing as a journalist. She became the first woman editor of The Arab Observer (Cairo), the only English-language news weekly in the Middle East. When she lived in Ghana, she was the feature editor of The African Review (Accra). She was also a teacher and assistant administrator at the School of Music and Drama at the University of Ghana.
In the Sixties, at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ms. Angelou became the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She was also appointed by President Gerald Ford to the Bicentennial Commission, and by President Jimmy Carter to the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year.
In the film industry, especially through her work in script writing and directing, Maya Angelou has been a groundbreaker for black women. She was the writer of the screenplay “Georgia, Georgia, “which was the first original script by a black woman to be produced. She has also done numerous musical scores for her own films and others as well. Ms. Angelou was writer/producer for 20th Century Fox TV, for whom her film, “Sisters, Sisters, “was the first initial full-length effort. In television, Ms. Angelou has made hundreds of appearances on both network and local talk shows. She was the subject of an hour interview with Bill Moyers on the PBS special in Salado, Texas. Her renowned auto biographical account of her youth, “I Know Why the Caged Bird sings, “was a two-hour TV special for CBS in 1979.
Other significant television accomplishments include the five-part mini-series, “Three Way Choice,” aired on CBS, for which she was both the author and executive producer. and “Afro-American in the Arts, “a PBS special for which she received the coveted Golden Eagle Award.
Drawing again upon her many talents, Ms. Angelou, in collaboration with Godfrey Cambridge, wrote, produced, and performed in the revue, “Cabaret for Freedom.” She also appeared with Cambridge in Jean Genet’s play, “The Blacks.” This production later went on to win the Obie Award. In 1974, she wrote an adaptation of Sophocles” “Ajax “for the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Ms. Angelou ‘s musical, “And Still I Rise, “for which she was librettist, lyricist, and composer, was first produced in 1976 She wrote and presented a BBC documentary, “Trying to Make it Home, “in 1988, and her most recent achievement is the production of “Moon on a Rainbow Shawl,” in which Ms. Angelou directed the play written by Errol John. This production opened in May, 1988 in London, England.
Ms. Angelou’s awards and honors are unlimited in virtually every field. To mention only a few: she received the Chubb Fellowship Award from Yale University in 1970; a National Book Award nomination in 1970 for “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings “; a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1972 for “just Give Me a Cook Drink of Water Fore I Diie”; and a Tony Award nomination in 1973 for her performance in “Look Away.” Ms. Angelou was chosen from literally thousands of A men can poets to compose and deliver a poem for the 1993 inauguration of President and fellow Arkansan, William Jefferson Clinton. Her selection “On Pulse of Morning” is now on record as poetry “from the heart melting to the heart” of America’s melting pot.