An African-American poet and author, she is known for her 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, as well as for her poem "On the Pulse of Morning."
She was mute for five years as the result of trauma and, during this period, developed her lifelong love of literature.
Her 1971 poetry collection, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
She gave birth to her first son at the age of seventeen, just three weeks after finishing high school. She was married to Enistasious Tosh Angelos from 1951 to 1954 and Paul du Fec from 1973 to 1981.
She recited one of her poems at President Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration.