Books That Made a Difference

Maya Angelou (1928-  )

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings


  • Born Marguerite Johnson in 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Bailey (a doorkeeper and naval dietician) and Vivian (a nurse and a real estate agent).
  • Married and divorced twice (Tosh Angelou and Paul Du Feu); one child, Guy Johnson.
  • Attended public schools in Arkansas and California.
  • Studied music, dance (with Martha Graham, Pearl Primus, and Ann Halprin), and drama (with Frank Silvera and Gene Frankel).


  • Taught modern dance at Habima Theatre, in Tel Aviv, and the Rome Opera House, in Rome.
  • Appeared in numerous plays and films in the United States and abroad, including Porgy and Bess (a U.S. state department tour of 22 nations); Calypso Heatwave, The Blacks, and Cabaret for Freedom, with Godfrey Cambridge (all off-Broadway); Mother Courage (Ghana); Medea (Hollywood), Look Away (Broadway), and Roots (television).  Directed All Day Long, And Still I Rise in California, and Moon on a Rainbow Shawl (London).
  • Worked as a newspaper editor in Egypt and as a university administrator in Ghana.
  • Served as visiting professor or writer-in-residence at UCLA, University of Kansas, Wake Forest University, Witchita State University, and California State University, Sacramento.
  • Nominated for National Book Award in 1970 for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
  • Received honorary degrees from Smith College, 1975; Mills College, 1975; Lawrence University, 1976; and Wake Forest University, 1977.
  • Named Woman of the Year in Communications in 1976 and one of the top one hundred most influential women (1983) by Ladies' Home Journal; nominated for a Tony award for best supporting actress for Roots in 1977; named; Woman of the Year by Essence magazine in 1982; named Distinguished Woman of North Carolina, 1992.

Major Writings

Autobiography, Fiction, Poetry
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
(1970), autobiography
Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie (1971), poetry
Gather Together in My Name (1974), autobiography
Oh, Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well (1975), poetry
Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas (1976), autobiography
And Still I Rise (1978), poetry
The Heart of a Woman (1981), autobiography
Shaker, Why Don't You Sing? (1983), poetry
All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986), autobiography
Poems (1986), collected in four volumes
Life Doesn't Frighten Me (1993), poetry
On the Pulse of the Morning (poem), 1993
Lessons in Living (1993)
Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993)
Soul Looks Back in Wonder
The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou
, 1994
My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me (1994)
Phenomenal Women: Four Poems Celebrating Women (1994)
A Brave and Startling Truth (1995)
Kofi and his Magic (1996)

Cabaret for Freedom, with Godfrey Cambridge (1960), musical revue
The Least of These (1966), drama
The Clawing Within (1966)
Adjoa Amissah (1967), musical
Encounters (1973)
Sophocles Ajax (1974), adaptation
And Still I Rise (1976), musical

Screen and Television Plays
Blacks, Blues, Black (1968), NET series
Georgia, Georgia (1972), screenplay
All Day Long
(1974), screenplay
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1979), CBS adaptation
Sister, Sister (1982), NBC drama
Brewster Place (1990), ABC series premiere

Miss Calypso (1957)
The Poetry of Maya Angelou (1969)
Women in Business (1981)

Film Music
"You Put It on Me" and "For Love of Ivy, " with Quincy Jones (1968)
"I can Call Down Rain" and "Georgia Georgia" (1972)

Critical Sources and Reviews

  • Biographical and critical information in multiple volumes of the following Gale publications: Contemporary Literary Criticism, including CLC 12, 1980; 35, 1985; 64, 1991; 77, 1993; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 38: Afro-American Writers After 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers; Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Vol. 10; and Black Literature Criticism, Gale, 1991.  Gale publications can be accessed online through a subscribing library at
  • Some reviews of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:
    • Harper's, NOvember, 1972
    • Newsweek, March 2, 1970
    • New York Times, February 25, 1970.
  • Useful online reviews available in the New York Times Books Archive:
    • Review of Mari Evans, Black Women Writers: A Critical Evaluation,   September 23, 1984 (Rosellen Brown)
    • Review of Angelou's fifth autobiographical work, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes; May 11, 1986 (Houston A. Baker, Jr.)

Retired Discussion Series

Debbie Sturman, Director
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Phone: 307-334-3490
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