Hailed as "one of the great voices of contemporary literature," Angelou has written 11 best-selling books, including the autobiographical, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which was nominated for the National Book Award in 1970. A critical and popular success, the book stayed on The New York Times best-seller list for two years.
Among her poetry, Angelou's Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water `Fore I Diiie was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Her poem for President Bill Clinton's inauguration, "On the Pulse of Morning" won a Grammy Award for "best spoken word." In 1995, she recited the poem "A Brave and Startling Truth" at the 50th anniversary celebration of the United Nations.
Recognized and respected as an actress, playwright, producer and director, Angelou was nominated for an Emmy Award for her performance in Roots. Her screenplay Georgia, Georgia was the first by a black woman to be filmed. She has written and produced several prize-winning documentaries, including, Afro-Americans in the Arts, a PBS special that received the Golden Eagle Award.
Born Marguerite Johnson in 1928, Angelou was raised in segregated rural Arkansas. She has had a variety of occupations in what she describes as "a roller-coaster life." In the late 1950s, she joined the Harlem Writers Guild in New York City. She married a South African freedom fighter and lived in Cairo, Egypt, then spent several years in Ghana working as the features editor of The African Review and teaching at the University of Ghana.
The recipient of over 30 honorary degrees and countless other awards, Angelou is fluent in French, Spanish, Italian and West African Fanti. She was appointed by President Gerald Ford to the American Revolution Bicentennial Advisory Council, and by President Jimmy Carter to the National Commission for International Women's Year. In 1981, she was appointed to a lifetime position as the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.
Angelou's presentation in the Great Names series follows talks by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, political strategists Mary Matalin and James Carville, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell. While on campus, she will participate in a class and meet students and faculty for dinner and a reception.