Marguerite Annie Johnson, better known as Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014), was an American poet, civil rights activist, historian, songwriter and frequent autobiographer (she wrote seven). Angelou was a significant presence in American culture and politics, with over fifty years of credits for plays, movies, and television, along with her intimate writing about herself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) is widely read in schools, though it was threatened to be, or actually banned in certain districts due to its provocative content. She challenged the traditional autobiography by critiquing and changing the genre. Her themes focus on racism, identity, family, and travel. She was an influential actor in the epic mini-series Roots in 1977, and served as a close friend and mentor to Oprah Winfrey in launching her prolific career.
Angelou worked with Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X during the Civil Rights Movement. She read her poem On the Pulse of the Morning at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, the first poet to do so since Robert Frost’s recitation of The Gift Outright at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.
American Literature will have to wait decades before her work is in the public domain, but we honor Angelou’s many contributions to literature and humanity. One of our favorite quotes:
“If you don’t like something, change it. if you can’t change it, change your attitude.”