Writer, academic and activist, who chronicled the African American experience in literature
When she started to chronicle the African-American experience through her own life, Maya Angelou, 82, had a lot to work with – enough to fill six books of autobiography, the first of which was the longest-running non-fiction paperback on the New York Times bestseller list.
A friend and supporter of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, as well as being Oprah Winfrey's mentor, it is her willingness to share the wisdom she gained from the struggle of her early years that inspires her generations of fans.
As a child she was raped by her mother's boyfriend. When her attacker was kicked to death she didn't speak for five years – believing that by naming him she had killed him. After becoming a teenage mother, a professional dancer, prostitute, playwright, television producer, film director and lecturer, one of her volumes of poetry was nominated for a Pulitzer prize and she was asked to read at Bill Clinton's inauguration. As one reader said: "When I was a teenager her books opened up a world to me that made me consider who I was as a person and who I wanted to be. Her writing showed me that I could do or be whatever I wanted because of - rather than despite – my gender."