Poet, memoirist and performer
As a poet, Angelou was best known for reading at President Clinton's inauguration in 1993. She was the first African American woman to have that honor, and the first poet to read at the inauguration since Robert Frost more than three decades earlier. The work she composed for the occasion, "On the Pulse of Morning," sold more than 1 million copies and its recording won a Grammy Award.
But Angelou was also known as a prose writer, for her 1969 memoir, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." The book, written after the death of Dr.
Angelou was born on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis and raised there and in Stamps, Ark., by her grandmother. Her grandmother was relatively well-off, but the family was subject to casual racism and the violence of the
Angelou won a scholarship to an arts school in San Francisco, which she left briefly to become the city's first female African American cable car conductor. She gave birth to a son, who she raised on her own, shortly after graduating from high school.
In her early years, Angelou proved to be a multi-talented performer. She toured Europe as a singer in the opera "Porgy and Bess," danced with Alvin Ailey and recorded an album, "Calypso Lady," acted off-Broadway and joined the Harlem Writers Guild.
From 1960 through 1964 she worked abroad, in Egypt and Ghana. She returned to the U.S. to help
Angelou's creative career took off after the publication of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" -- she wrote articles, screenplays, short stories and songs. She continued to perform, appearing in the television series
Angelou's many books include the poetry collections "And Still I Rise," "Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die" "Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well" and "I Shall Not Be Moved," six memoirs collected in a 2004 omnibus edition and a memoir published in 2013, "Mom & Me & Mom."