The works of Maya Angelou encompass autobiography, plays, poetry, and teleplays. She also had an active directing, acting, and speaking career. She is best known for her books, including her series of seven autobiographies, starting with the critically acclaimed I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969).
All my work, my life, everything I do is about survival, not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated”.
Angelou’s autobiographies are distinct in style and narration, and “stretch over time and place”, from Arkansas to Africa and back to the US. They take place from the beginnings of World War II to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Angelou wrote collections of essays, including Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993) and Even the Stars Look Lonesome (1997), which writer Hilton Als called her “wisdom books” and “homilies strung together with autobiographical texts”. Angelou used the same editor throughout her writing career, Robert Loomis, an executive editor at Random House, until he retired in 2011. Angelou said regarding Loomis: “We have a relationship that’s kind of famous among publishers.”
She was one of the most honored writers of her generation, earning an extended list of honors and awards, as well as more than 30 honorary degrees. She was a prolific writer of poetry; her volume Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie (1971) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and she was chosen by President Bill Clinton to recite her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” during his inauguration in 1993.
Angelou’s successful acting career included roles in numerous plays, films, and television programs, such as in the television mini-series Roots in 1977. Her screenplay Georgia, Georgia (1972) was the first original script by a black woman to be produced and she was the first African-American woman to direct a major motion picture, Down in the Delta, in 1998. Since the 1990s, Angelou participated in the lecture circuit, which she continued into her eighties.