May Angelou

April 4, 1928

    Born with the name Marguerite Ann Johnson, she is an American author and poet who has been called "America's most visible black female autobiographer" by scholar Joanne M. Braxton. She is best known for her series of six autobiographic books, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first and most highly acclaimed, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her first seventeen years. It has given her recognition throughout the wold and was nominated for a National Book Award. She has been awarded over 30 honorary degrees and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her 1971 volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Diiie.

Angelou was a member of the Harlem Writers Guild in the late 1950s, was active in the Civil Rights movement. Since 1991, she has taught at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where she holds the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies. Since the 1990s she has made around eighty appearances a year on the lecture circuit. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at President Bill Clinton's inauguration, making her the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy's inauguration.

    After writing and publishing, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings", Angelou was renamed as a new kind of memoirist. She is looked up to and is recognized as a spokesperson for Black people and women. Angelou's work is often categorized as autobiographical fiction. She has, however, made a careful attempt to rebel against the common way of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre. Her books, which are on themes such as identity, family, and racism, are often used in schools and universities all over the world. Some of her more questionable work has been banned in US schools and libraries.

Momma Welfare Roll

Her arms semaphore fat triangles,
Pudgy hands bunched on layered hips
Where bones idle under years of fatback
And lima beans.
Her jowls shiver in accusation
Of crimes clich├ęd by
Repetition. Her children, strangers
To childhood's toys, play
Best the games of darkened doorways,
Rooftop tag, and know the slick feel of
Other people's property.

Too fat to whore,
Too mad to work,
Searches her dreams for the
Lucky sign and walks bare-handed
Into a den of bureaucrats for
Her portion.
'They don't give me welfare.
I take it.
 Maya Angelou