It is hard to know what to mention first in describing Maya Angelou—her poetry, her autobiographies, her prominence in literary history, or her unforgettable voice. Angelou was a uniquely American author, actress, screenwriter, dancer, poet, and civil rights activist. Her 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. She received numerous honors throughout her career, including two NAACP Image Awards, a nomination for the Pulitzer prize for a collection of her poetry, and a Grammy for the audio version of the poem she wrote and recited at President Bill Clinton’s Inaugural ceremony in 1993.
Angelou’s collections of poetry included her most famous, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die, which was nominated for the Pulitzer. One of her most famous works, “On the Pulse of Morning.” Angelou wrote for and recited at President Bill Clinton’s inaugural ceremony in January 1993. The occasion marked the first inaugural recitation since 1961, when Robert Frost delivered his poem “The Gift Outright” at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Angelou went on to win a Grammy Award for the audio version of the poem.
Encouraged by fellow writer James Baldwin to write down her life experiences, Angelou’s 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was enormously successful and made her an international star. As her most popular autobiographical work, it remained on The New York Times‘ paperback nonfiction best-seller list for two years—the longest-running record in the chart’s history.
Angelou continued to write about her life, including what it meant to be an African American living in Africa, an inspirational essay collection of her insights into spirituality and living well. When she returned from Africa to the U.S., she struggled with the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. In a departure from her own story, she wrote Letter to My Daughter, a book of essays on Angelou’s advice to young women about living a life of meaning. Long interested in health, Angelou’s published cookbooks include Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes and Great Food, All Day Long.
In addition to being a writer and a poet Angelou was an actress, a singer, and a dancer. In the mid-50s she landed a role in a touring production of Porgy and Bess. She appeared in the off-Broadway production Calypso Heat Wave and released her first album, Miss Calypso in 1957. As a civil rights activist, she organized and starred in the musical revue Cabaret for Freedom. In 1961, she appeared in an off-Broadway production of Jean Genet’s The Blacks with James Earl Jones, Lou Gossett Jr., and Cicely Tyson. In the seventies, she won a Tony Award nomination for her role in the play Look Away and an Emmy Award nomination for the television miniseries Roots.
Maya Angelou died on May 28, 2014, at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The news of her death was shared on social media where she was to mourned by her many fans. Among them, President Barack Obama observed that she was “a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman.” Angelou “had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children, that we all have something to offer,” he wrote.
Maya Anglou’s Books
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
The Complete Poetry
Letter to My Daughter
Maya Angelou: Poems The Collected Autobiographies Of Maya Angelou
And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems
Mom & Me & Mom
The Heart of a Woman
Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now
Rainbow in the Cloud: The Wisdom and Spirit of Maya Angelou
Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women
All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes
The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou
Life Doesn’t Frighten Me
Gather Together in My Name
I Shall Not Be Moved: Poems
Poetry For Young People
Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes
Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas
Mother: A Cradle to Hold Me
Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer
A Song Flung Up to Heaven
Even the Stars Look Lonesome
Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart
My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me
Maya Angelou: Poems
Maya Angelou: The Poetry of Living
Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem
Great Food, All Day Long: Eat Joyfully, Eat Healthily