Maya Angelou (/ˈmaɪ.ə ˈændʒəloʊ/; born Marguerite Ann Johnson; April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014) was an African-American author, poet, activist, and comedienne. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of films, television series, and plays spanning more than 50 years. She received dozens of awards and over 30 honorary doctoral degrees. Angelou was best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focused on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first titled I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim.
With the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou publicly discussed aspects of her personal life. She was respected as a spokesperson of black people and women, and her works have been considered a defense of black culture. Although attempts have been made to ban her books from some U.S. libraries, her works are widely used in schools and universities worldwide. Angelou's major works have been labeled as autobiographical fiction, but many critics have characterized them as autobiographies. She made a deliberate attempt to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre. Her books center on themes such as racism, identity, family, and travel. Angelou was best known for her autobiographies, but was also an established poet (although her poems have received mixed reviews).