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American poet, memoirist, historian, educator, actress, composer, playwright, children's author Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri in . Her parents divorced in and she grew up being shunted between St. Louis, Arkansas, Chicago and San Francisco to live with her mother, father and grandmother. Angelou's childhood was a horror story including the repercussions of rape. Her brightest period was with her grandmother in Arkansas where she had dance classes and also met an inspiring teacher who introduced her to the classical writings of both races. She became an unwed mother at sixteen, but still managed to graduate from San Francisco's Mission High School in and earn a scholarship to study dance, drama, and music at San Francisco�s Labor School, the only formal education she would ever obtained. When she first married in , she had been a streetcar conductor, a dancer, a Creole cook, a cocktail waitress, a prostitute, a madam, and a chauffeurette. She began a singing career at a San Francisco nightclub in using the stage name Maya Angelou. The marriage ended in and she joined the European touring company of Porgy and Bess as a singer and dancer. Returning , she sang in New York City nightclubs, studied modern dance with Martha Graham, danced on television variety shows and recorded her first album, Calypso Heat Wave (). She also took part in several off-Broadway productions. Having composed song lyrics and poems for many years, she joined the Harlem Writers Guild to polish her skills as a writer. In , Angelou became the Northeast coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), married a South African freedom fighter, and moved to Cairo where, until , she was associate editor of The Arab Observer, the only English-language news weekly in the Middle East. When her marriage ended in , she became an administrator at the University of Ghana�s School of Music and Drama, and then feature editor of the African Review until . While residing in Africa, she became fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and West African Fanti. Returning to the U.S., Angelou involved herself in the Civil Rights Movement and in TV production. At the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she served as Northern Coordinator for SCLC. After his assassination in , she began work on her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings published in and nominated for the National Book Award. Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die (), her first volume of poetry was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Thereafter she wrote many novels, books of poetry, essays, etc. She has written, produced, directed, and acted in productions for stage, film, and TV; written and produced several prize-winning documentaries; and was twice nominated for a Tony award for acting. Her numerous academic honors include over honorary doctorate degrees and a lifetime appointment as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.
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