Maya Angelou

(1928 – 2014)

Maya AngelouBiographical Sketch

Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Annie Johnson; St. Louis, MO, USA, April 4, 1928 – Winston-Salem, NC, USA, May 28, 2014) was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim.

She became a poet and writer after a string of odd jobs during her young adulthood. These included fry cook, sex worker, nightclub performer, Porgy and Bess cast member, Southern Christian Leadership Conference coordinator, and correspondent in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa. She was also an actress, writer, director, and producer of plays, movies, and public television programs. In 1982, she was named the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement and worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Beginning in the 1990s, she made approximately 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 the first inauguration of Bill Clinton, making her the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy 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 Black people and women, and her works have been considered a defense of Black culture. Her works are widely used in schools and universities worldwide, although attempts have been made to ban her books from some US libraries. Angelou’s most celebrated works have been labeled as autobiographical fiction, but many critics consider them to be 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 including racism, identity, family and travel.

Read more about Maya Angelou on Wikipedia.


Major Awards and Honors

United Nations
  • 1996: UNICEF American Ambassador
President of the United States
  • 1975-76: Member, American Revolution Bicentennial Council
  • 1977: Member, Presidential Commission for International Women’s Year
  • 1993: Inaugural Poet – “On the Pulse of Morning”
  • 2000: National Medal of Arts
  • 2010: Presidential Medal of Freedom
United States Department of State
  • 1986: Fulbright Program 40th Anniversary Distinguished Lecturer
State of North Carolina (USA)
  • 1987: North Carolina Award in Literature
North Carolina Arts Council (USA)
  • 1984: Member
North Carolina Council for Women (USA)
  • 1992: Distinguished Woman of North Carolina Award
Arkansas Black Hall of Fame (USA)
  • 1993: Inductee
Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers (USA)
  • 1997: Homecoming Award
American Library Association
  • 1971: Coretta Scott King Award, Honor – “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
  • 2009: Black Caucus Literary Award
National Book Foundation (USA)
  • 2013: Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community
    – Lifetime achievement award.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) (USA)
  • 1994: Spingarn Medal
  • 1998: Image Award, Outstanding Literary Work, Nonfiction – “Even the Stars Look Lonesome”
  • 2005: Image Award, Outstanding Literary Work, Nonfiction – “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table”
  • 2009: Image Award, Outstanding Literary Work, Nonfiction – “Letter to My Daughter”
National Women’s Hall of Fame (USA)
  • 1998: Inductee
American Academy of Achievement
  • 1990: Golden Plate Award
National Coalition of 100 Black Women (USA)
  • 1990: Candace Award
National Conference for Community and Justice (USA)
  • 2004: Charles Evans Hughes Award
Norman Mailer Center (USA)
  • 2013: Norman Mailer Prize
    – Lifetime Achievement.
Yale University (USA)
  • 1970: Chubb Fellowship
Wake Forest University (USA)
  • 1981: Reynold’s Professor of American Studies
  • 2017: Honorary Residence Hall nomination
Howard University (USA)
  • 2005: Heart’s Day Honoree
Columbia University
  • 1019: Butler Library Banner inclusion
Elon University (USA)
  • 2012: Black Cultural Society Award
City College of New York (USA)
  • 1991: Langston Hughes Medal
Rockefeller Foundation (USA)
  • 1975: Bellagio Center Resident
New York Association for Women in Communications (USA)
  • 1983: Matrix Award
City of Philadelphia (USA)
  • 2008: Marian Anderson Award
Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans
  • 1992: Horatio Alger Award
International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, NC (USA)
  • 1998: Alston-Jones International Civil & Human Rights Award
Tubman African American Museum
  • 1999: Shelia Award
Museum of Tolerance – Beit HaShoah (USA)
  • 2003: “Finding Our Families, Finding Ourselves” multimedia exhibit
    – Featured with Billy Crystal, Joe Torre, and Carlos Santana.
Hope for Peace and Justice Center
  • 2008: Voice of Peace Award
Ladies’ Home Journal (USA)
  • 1976: Woman of the Year in Communication Award
  • 1983: Included in Top 100 Most Influential Women List
Recording Academy (USA)
  • 1993: Grammy, Best Spoken Word Album – “On the Pulse of Morning”
  • 1995: Grammy, Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Album – “Phenomenal Woman”
  • 2002: Grammy, Best Spoken Word Album – “A Song Flung Up to Heaven”
Alliance for Women in Media Foundation (USA)
  • 2008: Gracie Award – XM Radio Show
Women in Film (USA)
  • 1992: Crystal Award
Walt Disney Company (USA)
  • 1995: Frank G. Wells American Teachers Award
Ford’s Theatre, Washington, D.C. (USA)
  • 2008: Lincoln Medal
St. Louis Walk of Fame (USA)
  • 1992: Star and Plaque
St. Bernadette Institute of Sacred Art (USA)
  • 2006: Mother Teresa Award
Rollins College (USA)
  • 1994: Dedicated stone on Walk of Fame
Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (USA)
  • 2014: Lifetime Achievement Award
Cleo Parker Robinson Dance studio
  • 2007: Martha Parker Legacy Award
The Christophers (USA)
  • 1999: Christopher Award
Ethnic Multicultural Media Academy / Hay Festival of Literature & Arts (UK)
  • 2002: EMMA Lifetime Achievement Award
United States Postal Service
  • 2015: Commemorative Stamp
United States Mint
  • 2022: Commemorative 25¢ coin as part of American Women Quarters series



  • Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie (1971)
  • Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well (1975)
  • And Still I Rise (1978)
  • Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? (1983)
  • Poems (1986)
  • Now Sheba Sings the Song (1987)
  • I Shall Not Be Moved (1990)
  • On the Pulse of Morning (1993)
    – Recited at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration.
  • The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (1994)
  • Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women (1995)
  • A Brave and Startling Truth (1995)
  • From a Black Woman to a Black Man (1995)
  • Amazing Peace (2005)
  • Mother: A Cradle to Hold Me (2006)
  • Celebrations, Rituals of Peace and Prayer (2006)
  • Poetry for Young People (2007)
  • We Had Him (2009)
    – Written for Michael Jackson’s memorial service.
  • His Day is Done (2013)
    – Commemmorative poem on the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s death.
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)
  • Gather Together in My Name (1974)
  • Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (1976)
  • The Heart of a Woman (1981)
  • All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986)
  • A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002)
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou (2004)
  • Mom & Me & Mom (2013)
  • Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993)
  • Even the Stars Look Lonesome (1997)
  • Letter to My Daughter (2008)
Theatre, Movies and TV
  • Cabaret for Freedom (1960)
    – Musical revue, with Godfrey Cambridge
  • The Least of These (1966)
  • The Best of These (1966)
  • Gettin’ up Stayed on My Mind (1967)
  • Sophocles, Ajax (1974)
    – Adaptation.
  • And Still I Rise (1976)
    – Writer / director.
  • Moon on a Rainbow Shawl (1978)
    – Director.
Film and Television
  • Blacks, Blues, Black! (1968)
    – Writer, producer and host – ten one-hour programs, National Education Television.
  • Georgia, Georgia (1972)
    – Writer for script and musical score), Sweden.
  • All Day Long (1974)
    – Writer / director.
  • PBS documentaries (1975)
    • Who Cares About Kids & Kindred Spirits
    • Maya Angelou: Rainbow in the Clouds
    • To the Contrary
    • Tapestry and Circles
  • Assignment America (1975)
    – Six one-half hour programs.
  • Part One: The Legacy; Part Two: The Inheritors (1976)
    – Writer and host.
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1979)
    – Writer for script and musical score.
  • Sister, Sister (1982)
    – Writer.
  • Brewster Place (1990)
    – Writer.
  • Down in the Delta (1998)
    – Director.
  • The Black Candle (2012)
    – Poetry, narration.
Appearances as a Stage and Screen Actress 
  • Porgy and Bess (1954–1955)
  • Calypso (1957)
  • The Blacks (1960)
  • Mother Courage, 1964)
  • Look Away (1973)
  • Roots (1977)
  • Runaway (1993)
  • Poetic Justice (1993)
  • Touched by an Angel: “Reunion” (1995)
  • How to Make an American Quilt (1995)
  • Madea’s Family Reunion (2006)
Spoken Word
  • The Poetry of Maya Angelou (1969)
  • Women in Business (1981)
  • On the Pulse of Morning (1993)
  • A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002)
  • Miss Calypso (1957)
  • For the Love of Ivy (1968)
  • And So It Goes (1988)
    – Co-written with Roberta Flack for Flack’s album Oasis.
  • Been Found (1996)
    – Collaborated on 7 tracks with Ashford & Simpson.
  • Music, Deep Rivers in My Soul (2007)
    – With Wynton Marsalis.
Children’s books
  • Life Doesn’t Frighten Me (1993)
  • My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken and Me (1994)
  • Kofi and His Magic (1996)
  • Maya’s World series (2004)
    • Izak of Lapland
    • Angelina of Italy
    • Renée Marie of France
    • Mikale of Hawaii
  • Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes (2004)
  • Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart (2010)


A Selection of Quotes

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

“The needs of a society determine its ethics.”

Gather Together in My Name

“Self-pity in its early stages is as snug as a feather mattress. Only when it hardens does it become uncomfortable.”

All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

“Each of us has the right and the responsibility to assess the roads which lie ahead, and those over which we have traveled, and if the future road looms ominous or unpromising, and the roads back uninviting, then we need to gather our resolve and, carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. If the new choice is also unpalatable, without embarrassment, we must be ready to change that as well.”

“A person is the product of their dreams. So make sure to dream great dreams. And then try to live your dream.”

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

“Since time is the one immaterial object which we cannot influence – neither speed up nor slow down, add to nor diminish – it is an imponderably valuable gift.”

Letter to My Daughter

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

“The charitable say in effect, ‘I seem to have more than I need and you seem to have less than you need. I would like to share my excess with you.’ Fine, if my excess is tangible, money or goods, and fine if not, for I learned that to be charitable with gestures and words can bring enormous joy and repair injured feelings.”

“We may act sophisticated and worldly but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.”

Mom & Me & Mom

“Independence is a heady draft, and if you drink it in your youth, it can have the same effect on the brain as young wine does. It does not matter that its taste is not always appealing. It is addictive and with each drink you want more.”

“I want you to learn that you cannot have anything without working for it. The only way you can be taken advantage of is if you think you can get something for nothing.”

As quoted in A Conversation with Dr. Maya Angelou, Beautifully Said Magazine, July 2012:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Unsourced / Atributed:

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat,’ … And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.”

Find more quotes by Maya Angelou on Wikiquote and Goodreads.