Maya Angelou (born April 4, 1928) is considered one of the United States' most talented authors and poets, and has long been one of the strongest voices for civil rights activism in America. She is best known for her autobiographical writings, such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) and All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986). Her volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die (1971) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and she has published numerous other collections of verse.
Angelou's early activism led Martin Luther King, Jr to request that she become the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1959. In the early and mid-1960s, Angelou was an editor for newspapers in Africa, including The Arab Observer in Cairo, Egypt and The African Review in Accra, Ghana. She returned to the United States in the 1970s, being named a member of the Bicentennial Commission by Gerald Ford and a member of the Commission for International Woman of the Year by Jimmy Carter. She was given a lifetime appointment in 1981 as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She also read one of her poems at Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993, at his request.
In addition to her careers in literature and activism, Angelou has had success as a director, producer, actor, and author for stage, television, and film. She wrote the screenplay and score for the film Georgia, Georgia in 1971: the screenplay was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She has twice been nominated for a Tony Award for her acting: once in 1973 for Look Away (her debut role), and once in 1977 for Roots. She was the first African-American woman admitted to the Directors Guild.