Jon Meacham was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee on May 20, 1969. He received a degree in English literature at the University of the South. He joined Newsweek as a writer in 1995. Three years later, at the age of 29, he was promoted to managing editor, supervising coverage of politics, international affairs, and breaking news. In 2006, he was promoted to editor at Newsweek. He is currently an executive editor at Random House. He won the Pulitzer Prize for American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House in 2009. His other works include Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation. In 2001, he edited Voices in Our Blood: America's Best on the Civil Rights Movement. In 2013 his title Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power made The New York Times Best Seller List.
Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in Saint Louis, Missouri. At the age of 16, she became not only the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco but the first woman conductor. In the mid-1950s, she toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. In 1957, she recorded her first album, Calypso Lady. In 1958, she became a part of the Harlem Writers Guild in New York and played a queen in The Blacks, an off-Broadway production by French dramatist Jean Genet. In 1960, she moved to Cairo, where she edited The Arab Observer, an English-language weekly newspaper. The following year, she went to Ghana where she was features editor of The African Review and taught music and drama at the University of Ghana. In 1964, she moved back to the U.S. to become a civil rights activist by helping Malcolm X build his new coalition, the Organization of African American Unity, and became the northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Even though she never went to college, she taught American studies for years at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. In 1993, she became only the second poet in United States history to write and recite an original poem at a Presidential Inauguration when she read On the Pulse of Morning at President Bill Clinton's Inauguration Ceremony. She wrote numerous books during her lifetime including: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, and Mom and Me and Mom. In 2011, President Barack Obama gave her the Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor, for her collected works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. She appeared in the movie Roots and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1977 for her role in the movie. She also played a part in the movie, How to Make an American Quilt and wrote and produced Afro-Americans in the Arts, a PBS special for which she received a Golden Eagle Award. She was a three-time Grammy winner. She died on May 28, 2014 at the age of 86.
James Baldwin was born on August 2, 1924, in New York. Baldwin's father was a pastor who subjected his children to poverty, abuse, and religious fanaticism. As a result, many of Baldwin's recurring themes, such as alienation and rejection, are attributable to his upbringing. Living the life of a starving artist, Baldwin went through numerous jobs, including dishwasher, office boy, factory worker, and waiter. In 1948, he moved to France, where much work originated. Baldwin published Go Tell It on the Mountain in 1953. A largely autobiographical work, it tells of the religious awakening of a fourteen-year-old. In addition to his childhood experiences, his experiences as a black man and a homosexual provided inspiration for such works as Giovanni's Room, Nobody Knows My Name, and Another Country. Baldwin holds a distinguished place in American history as one of the foremost writers of both black and gay literature. He was an active participant in the Civil Rights movement. Baldwin succumbed to cancer on December 1, 1987.
Ralph Ellison (March 1, 1914 - April 16, 1994) has the distinction of being one of the few writers who has established a firm literary reputation on the strength of a single work of long fiction. Writer and teacher, Ralph Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, studied at Tuskegee Institute, and has lectured at New York, Columbia, and Fisk universities and at Bard College. He received the Prix de Rome from the Academy of Arts and Letters in 1955, and in 1964 he was elected a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He has contributed short stories and essays to various publications. Invisible Man (1952), his first novel, won the National Book Award for 1953 and is considered an impressive work. It is a vision of the underground man who is also the invisible African American, and its possessor has employed this subterranean view and viewer to so extraordinary an advantage that the impression of the novel is that of a pioneer work. A book of essays, Shadow and Act, which discusses the African American in America and Ellison's Oklahoma boyhood, among other topics, appeared in 1964. Ralph Ellison died on April 16, 1994 of pancreatic cancer and was interred in a crypt at Trinity Church Cemetery in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan.
Alice Walker won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for her novel The Color Purple. Her other bestselling novels include By the Light of My Father's Smile, Possessing the Secret of Joy, and The Temple of My Familiar. She is also the author of two collections of short stories, three collections of essays, five volumes of poetry, and several children's books. Her books have been translated into more than two dozen languages. Born in Eaton, Georgia, Walker now lives in Northern California.