90. Maya Angelou: American Author

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One of the most influential African-American women to live in the United States was the great Maya Angelou. She was an accomplished author, poet, and entertainer, who had a major impact on modern American culture. She was considered an international, renaissance woman for her life work that included civil rights activism. Angelou was born in St. Louis, Missouri on April 4, 1928. She experienced racial discrimination during her early years, but leaned on her upbringing and culture to get her through the dark times of her life.

She first became interested in the arts as a teenager. She won a dance and drama scholarship at San Francisco's Labor School. However, at the age of 14, she dropped out of the school, and took a job as the city's first African-American female cable car operator. She had a child at an early age, and supported her son by working as a waitress, and cook, but her love of the arts soon consumed her.

During the mid-1950s, Angelou was involved in several theatrical performances, which prompted her move to New York City in 1958. In New York, she became an accomplished writer, but circumstances surrounding blacks in the next decade changed her focus. She began working tirelessly for the civil rights movement. The assassination of civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on her birthday affected her deeply. After King's death, Angelou began concentrating on writing her life story. Her first autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings received critical acclaim. It chronicled her early years growing up as black in a predominantly white American culture. In all, Angelou wrote seven autobiographies, and her work is considered an integral part of American culture.

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