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When Maya Angelou was 16 she became San Francisco’s first black female streetcar conductor. By the time she was 40 she had also been, in no particular order, a cook, a waitress, a madam, a prostitute, a dancer, an actress, a playwright and a calypso singer. (Her one album is titled Miss Calypso.) It wasn’t until 1969, when she was 40, that she became an author and kick-started a career that would span TV, movies, university classrooms and President Clinton’s Inauguration stage.
In her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou, who died May 28 at 86, tells the story of her life up to the age of 17.