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Maya Angelou, a world-renowned author, educator, producer, director, actress, and civil-rights activist, will be principal speaker at Lafayette College's 164th Commencement on Saturday, May 22, and will be awarded an honorary Lafayette degree.

Lafayette President Arthur J. Rothkopf said, “I'm delighted that Maya Angelou will speak to our graduates and parents at commencement. A true Renaissance woman and an inspiring example of the strength of the human spirit, she has enriched our society greatly through her many contributions in the arts, humanities, education, civil rights, and social justice.”

Angelou is Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, a lifetime post to which she was appointed in 1981. She is the author of 11 best-selling books, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Perhaps her best-known work, this autobiographical account of her childhood, published in 1970, was nominated for a National Book Award. Two volumes of her poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie (1971) and And Still I Rise (1978), were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Angelou is the first woman and the first African American to read her work at the inauguration of a U.S. president. She read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” composed for the occasion, at Bill Clinton's inauguration in January 1993. Angelou won a Grammy Award for best spoken word or non-traditional album for her recording of the poem.

In the 1960's, at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Angelou served as northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, organized in 1957. She was later appointed by President Gerald Ford to the Bicentennial Commission and by President Jimmy Carter to the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year.

Her other autobiographies include Gather Together in My Name (1974), Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas (1976), The Heart of a Woman (1981), and All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986). Other volumes of poetry are Oh Pray My Wings are Gonna Fit Me Well (1975), Shaker, Why Don't You Sing? (1983), Now Sheba Sings the Song (1987), I Shall Not Be Moved (1990), The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (1994), and Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women (1995).

She has published two volumes of essays, and Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993) and Even the Stars Look Lonesome (1997). Her books for children include Life Doesn't Frighten Me (1993) and My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken and Me (1994), and Kofi and His Magic (1996), the first in a series of books about children of different cultures.

Angelou has contributed articles to a long list of publications, including The New York Times, Life, Ebony, Essence, Cosmopolitan, Mademoiselle, Harper's Bazaar, and Redbook.

As a screenwriter, director, and actress Angelou has been a groundbreaker for black women in the film industry. She recently directed her first feature-length film, Down in the Delta, a family drama starring Alfre Woodard and Wesley Snipes, which opened nationwide last Christmas day. Her screenplay Georgia, Georgia was the first original script by a black woman to be produced. As a writer-producer for 20th Century Fox TV, Angelou's film Sister, Sister became the company's first full-length effort. She has worked on numerous musical scores for her own films and those of others. She played a role in Universal Pictures' 1995 film How to Make an American Quilt.

Her accomplishments in television are equally significant. She has made hundreds of appearances on network and local TV talk shows and has appeared on such programs as Sesame Street and Touched by an Angel. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was made into a CBS special in 1979. Angelou was nominated for an Emmy award for her supporting role in Roots and the Golden Eagle Award for her PBS documentary Afro-Americans in the Arts.

Her writing for the stage includes the 1960 off-Broadway revue Cabaret for Freedom, a collaboration with Godfrey Cambridge in which she also performed. Her adaptation of Sophocles' Ajax was produced at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 1974. Her musical And Still I Rise, for which she was librettist, lyricist and composer, was first produced in Oakland in 1976. She directed the London production of Errol John's Moon on a Rainbow Shawl in 1988.

Born Marguerite Johnson in 1928 in St. Louis, Angelou was educated in public schools in Stamps, Ark., and San Francisco. In San Francisco she studied drama and dance, and, at age 24, received a scholarship to study with Pearl Primus in New York. She then joined a 22-country European tour of Porgy and Bess.

Angelou's numerous awards and honors span many fields. In addition to her Grammy Award and nominations for the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and Emmy Award, she was nominated for a Tony Award in 1973 for her performance in the Broadway production of Jerome Kilty's Look Away.

Angelou was named UNICEF's National Ambassador in 1996. She was the 1983 recipient of the Matrix Award of the Association for Women in Communications. In 1987 she won the North Carolina Award in Literature. She was named Woman of the Year by Essence in 1992. More than 30 colleges and universities have granted her honorary degrees.

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