Maya Angelou was an American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist. Born Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, she lived in Alabama and California in her early years. She moved to New York in the fifties and joined the Harlem Writers Guild where, with the guidance of her friend, the novelist James Baldwin, she began working on a series of autobiographies. Angelou’s work mined her experience as a black woman in the American South, meditating on family, race, and mythology. In 1970, she published her first memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in which she recounts childhood hardship and sexual abuse. The book was an immediate success, earning Angelou international acclaim and a National Book Award nomination. Over her long career in the arts, Angelou earned numerous prestigious literary and humanitarian awards including more than fifty honorary degrees and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. She died in 2014 at the age of eighty-six.