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Non-Fiction Authors

Any written text that is based on facts and intends to convey the truth or information about real events is referred to as non-fiction.

Non-fiction can take many forms including argumentative and narrative texts, opinion pieces, essays, biographies, journalism pieces, and historical writing.

Non-fiction authors write intending to present true information about their subject. If an author is writing about a historic event, they will aim to accurately portray key facts such as the date of the event, the parties involved, and the motives that caused it. The work may or may not be entirely accurate, facts may change over time, and the author may have inherent biases that affect the accuracy of the text. The writer’s job is, thus, to be persuasive and convince readers of the accuracy of the information. The reader also has to give the author a level of trust that the information conveyed is true at a basic level.

The difference between non-fiction and fiction

Non-Fiction Authors A collection of books on a shelf StudySmarterA collection of fiction and non-fiction books, Unsplash.com.

The main difference between fiction and non-fiction is that non-fiction texts include factual information while fiction is the product of a writer’s imagination.

  • Non-fiction work is usually upheld to a higher fact-checking standard because if the work contains fabrications or inaccuracies, it loses its credibility. Fiction writing allows writers to make full use of their imagination in the form of stories, novels, and myths.
  • Non-fiction writing has an objective point of view and fiction is commonly subjective.
  • Non-fiction is generally written from the author’s point of view, while fiction can have many different points of view.
  • Non-fiction usually focuses on facts in the exterior world while fiction is written from the writer’s imagination.

Non-fiction genres

Like in fiction, there are many different genres in non-fiction. Let’s explore them in detail.

Autobiography

Non-fiction authors, writing autobiography, StudySmarterA person writing an autobiography, Pixabay.com.

Autobiographies are written accounts of a person’s own life. The writer will attempt to inform the reader of their thoughts and experiences during important periods of their life. Autobiographies are generally written by well-known and perhaps famous people, such as politicians or activists.

Autobiographies tend to be subjective in nature as they are written in the first person and are made up of the opinions and views of the writer. The form has become quite popular in modern times, with many public figures choosing to write and reflect on the important milestones in their lives by writing an autobiography. Some people may choose to collaborate or receive assistance from a ghostwriter.

Examples:

Biography

A biography is a third-person account of another person’s life story. It typically includes the person’s important facts and life-changing moments or events. The biographer details the person’s life by writing about their childhood, education, personal relationships, and success.

Biographers need to conduct in-depth and accurate research before starting the writing process. The research may be from a direct interview or, if the subject has passed away, from primary sources and interviews with close friends and family members.

Examples:

  • Writing Home (1994) by Allan Bennet.
  • Stuart: A Life Backwards (2005) by Alexander Masters.

Memoir

A memoir is a narrative about a significant part of the author’s life written from their own perspective or their personal memories of an event. In many ways, it’s similar to an autobiography. However, there are a few key differences that define memoirs as a subgenre.

  • A memoir typically narrows its focus to a short but significant period of the author’s life, whereas an autobiography typically spans the entire life of the author.

  • Memoirs focus less on the facts of the event but rather detail the story as the author remembers it.

The word memoir comes from the French word ‘mémoire,’ which means ‘memory,’ or ‘reminiscence’.

Examples:

History/History textbooks

Historical non-fiction is an account of true historical events. Books that are written in this genre commonly overlap with other forms such as historical narratives or literary non-fiction.

Examples:

  • Stasiland (2003) by Anna Funder.
  • What the Chinese Don’t Eat (2006) by Xinran.

Travel

In travelogues, non-fiction writers provide a creative narrative about their journeys to foreign places. They often incorporate a plot with characters and take readers on an adventure where they explore new places, foods, and different cultures.

Examples:

Non-fiction authors

Let’s study some of the most well-established non-fiction authors and their main contributions to this literary genre.

Anonymous authors

Throughout the history of literature, various works have been written and published anonymously. The reason why the writer doesn’t wish to be named is often that their work is controversial or opposes the political power of the time. Sometimes it may simply be because the author wants to remain private.

A famous example of an anonymously published work:

  • I Am The Secret Footballer (2012).
  • The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (1912). James Weldon Johnson claimed he was the author of this slave narrative about a biracial man in 1927.

Maya Angelou (1928–2014)

Non-Fiction Authors Maya Angelou StudySmarterMaya Angelou in 1993, Wikimedia Commons.

Maya Angelou was an American poet, author, and civil rights activist. Over the course of her career, she published autobiographies, novels, poetry, and a list of plays and movies. She is best known for the autobiographies she wrote about her experiences as a young girl growing up in Missouri, USA.

Angelou’s most famous work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), is an autobiographical story about her life and her struggles growing up. The book begins with Angelou being a victim of racism and abuse. As the book develops, we see how she reflects on her past, navigates her experiences as a black woman in a white-male-dominated society, and grows confident in her identity and motherhood.

She was well respected for her support of the African-American community, as well as the impact her work had in raising awareness around the issues they face today.

Her most notable works include:

  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969).
  • Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie (1971).
  • All God's Children Need Travelling Shoes (1986).
  • Mom & Me & Mom (2013).

Bill Bryson (1951–Present)

Bill Bryson is an American-British author famous for his non-fiction travel books. He has also written about the English language, science, and modern life. He was born in the United States but has spent most of his adult life in Britain.

Bryson first gained mainstream recognition after the publication of his book called Notes from a Small Island (1995), which was nominated as the book that best described British identity. The book is a comical travel story through Great Britain that was adapted to a television series.

Bryson also published a popular non-fiction science book called A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003). The book was praised for how it made complex scientific topics accessible to the general public. It proved to be very successful in the UK, selling over 300,000 copies.

Bill Bryson remains a prominent literary figure in the UK, with a library at Durham University named after him!

His most notable works include:

  • Notes from a Small Island (1995) - A travel book about Great Britain.

  • The Mother Tongue (1990) - A non-fiction book about the history and origins of the English language.

  • A Walk in the Woods (1998) - A travel book about his experience walking the Appalachian Trail. In 2015, the book was adapted into a film.

  • A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003) - A science book that explains complex science topics in an accessible format.

Anne Frank (1929–45)

Anne Frank was a Jewish girl who wrote a diary while she was hiding with her family from Nazi persecution during World War II. Her diary, The Diary of a Young Girl (1947), was published posthumously by her father, who was the only Holocaust survivor in the family. The work details Anne’s experience living in a secret annex in fear of being discovered by the Nazis.

The family was discovered and arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 and they were then sent off to concentration camps. Anne’s father, Otto, decided to fulfill Anne’s wish of becoming a writer by publishing her diary in 1947.

Solomon Northup (1808–between 1857–75)

Solomon Northup was an American abolitionist and author of the slave memoir Twelve Years a Slave. He was born as a free African-American in New York and spent much of his time farming and playing the violin. Northup travelled to Washington to perform music but he was drugged, kidnapped, and then sold as a slave. He spent the next 12 years of his life labouring in New Orleans until he regained his freedom in 1853 with the aid of Henry Northrop. The memoir he wrote details his experiences and struggles of slavery.

Non-fiction books

You can find a wide range of explanations about non-fiction books on the StudySmarter platform. This section lists some commendable works within each genre.

Autobiography

Long Walk to Freedom (1994) by Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela’s autobiography was first published in 1994 and was ghostwritten by Richard Stengel. The book details significant events of his life such as his childhood, schooling, and his time in prison.

Readers learn about his personal experiences under the apartheid government and his status as a terrorist, they also learn about his imprisonment for being the leader of the African National Congress (ANC). The book later explores his ascension to president of South Africa and the strategies he implemented to rebuild the country.

The book was received with praise from the global community and won the Alan Paton Award in 1995. It has since been published in many languages and has an international readership.

Biography

Stuart: A Life Backwards (2005) by Alexander Masters

This is a biography written by Alexander Masters about his close friend, Stuart Clive Shorter. The book focuses on the troubled life of Stuart, who is an unstable and violent criminal. As the title suggests, the biography works backward through Stuart’s life, starting from adulthood and retracing the steps back to his childhood. This makes the readers feel empathy for Stuart, as we learn more about his life and see how his disability and childhood events led him to be the troubled man he became.

The book won the 2005 Guardian First Book Award and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Book Awards in 2005 for biography, and the 2006 Hawthornden Prize. It was also adapted as television series by the BBC in 2007.

Memoir

Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) by George Orwell.

Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London is a two-part memoir about poverty. The memoir exposes the poverty in the two wealthy and prosperous cities of London and Paris. Its intended audience was the wealthy citizens of society, who Orwell thought ignored the poor living in their own cities.

The first part details his experience of those in poverty in Paris, and the second is a travelogue of life in London from the perspective of a homeless man. Upon publication, there was debate about whether the memoir was entirely factual or part fiction. Orwell responded that he ‘exaggerated nothing except in so far as all writers exaggerate by selecting’.¹

History

Stasiland (2003) by Anna Funder

Stasiland is a work of historical non-fiction about the East German regime. It tells the story about what it was like to work for the Stasi (the secret police in Germany). Funder sought former members of Stasi and conducted extensive interviews with them as the main source of information for the book.

Stasiland has been published in sixty-nine countries and translated into multiple languages. The book won the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2004 and was shortlisted for multiple other awards.

Travel

The Lost Continent (1989) by Bill Bryson

The Lost Continent is a non-fiction travel book detailing Bill Bryson’s 14,000 mile trip across America. Bryson wrote the book after his father’s death. That’s why he starts his journey in his childhood town and often throughout the book reminisces about his childhood and his father.

Bryson deliberately avoided tourists location as he travelled from the East to the West of America. The book doesn’t focus on factual aspects of America but is rather Bryson’s personal observations and experiences of everyday life there.

Non-Fiction Authors - Key takeaways

  • Non-fiction texts intend to convey the truth about the chosen subject matter.
  • Literary non-fiction presents facts in the form of a narrative.
  • Non-fiction is written from an objective viewpoint.
  • Sub-genres of non-fiction include autobiography, biography, memoir, travel, and history.
  • Non-fiction works may fall under more than one sub-genre, such as a travel memoir.

Sources

1. George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London (French Edition), 1935.

Frequently Asked Questions about Non-Fiction Authors

A text that intends to convey the truth or information about real events.

Historical non-fiction is a text where a writer intends to provide an account of true historical events.

Examples of non-fiction books are The Diary of a Young Girl (1947), Notes from a Small Island (1995) and Twelve Years a Slave (1853).

Non-fiction includes researched factual information while fiction is the product of a writer’s imagination.

Final Non-Fiction Authors Quiz

Question

Non-fiction texts are a representation of facts and shouldn’t include stories.

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Answer

False. 

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Non-fiction texts are never biased.

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Answer

False. 

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Question

What is the main difference between non-fiction and fiction?


Show answer

Answer

Non-fiction includes factual information while fiction is the product of a writer’s imagination.

Show question

Question

Non-fiction writing is usually presented from a subjective point of view.


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Answer

 False. 

Show question

Question

An autobiography is a third-person account of someone’s life story.


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Answer

False. 

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Question

What topics does a biography usually cover?


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Answer

It usually covers childhood, education, personal relationships, and the success of the subject's life.

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Question

What sources would a biographer use if their subject has died?


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Answer

A biographer would conduct interviews with close friends and family as well as analyse any written work. 

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Question

What is the main difference between a memoir and an autobiography?


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Answer

A memoir is often about a critical time in the persons life whereas an autobiography details a person's entire life.

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Question

Travel non-fiction must be factual and shouldn't include a narrative.


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Answer

False. 

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Question

Why do some authors choose to publish anonymously?


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Answer

Their work may be controversial or oppose the political power of the time. Some authors may wish to keep their privacy by publishing anonymously.

Show question

Question

What is Maya Angelou's most famous work?

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Answer

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)

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Question

What type of non-fiction is Bill Bryson famous for writing?

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Answer

Travel non-fiction

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All autobiographies must be written by the person it is about.

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Answer

False. 

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Question

Stuart: A Life Backwards (2005) has a reverse chronology.

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Answer

True.

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Question

Who was Robert Graves?

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Answer

Robert Graves was an English poet, novelist, critic and scholar who also served as a junior officer in World War I 

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How did Robert Graves die?

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Answer

Robert Graves died from heart failure on the 7th December 1985  

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What is Robert Graves's most famous poem?

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Answer

One of Robert Graves's most famous poems is 'Two Fusiliers' 

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Who did Robert Graves serve in the First World War with?

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Answer

Robert Graves served in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, along with fellow poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon 

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Did Robert Graves achieve his purpose?

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Robert Graves enjoyed a successful writing career, and he published over 140 works 

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Where did Robert Graves die?

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Robert Graves died in Majorca, Spain

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How many children did Robert Graves have?

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Answer

Robert Graves had 8 children

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Where is Robert Graves buried?

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Robert Graves is buried in the churchyard of Deia Church, in Majorca, Spain 

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What are the names of 3 of Robert Graves's most famous novels?

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Answer

Goodbye to All That, I Claudius, and The Greek Myths

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Why was Robert Graves reported dead in 1916?

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Answer

During the Battle of the Somme in 1916, Robert Graves was severely wounded 

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Where was Robert Graves born?

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Answer

Wimbledon, Surrey (England) 

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When did Robert Graves join the First World War?

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Robert Graves enlisted in World War I in 1914, and served as a junior officer  

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What did Robert Graves suffer from as a result of his experiences in the War?

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Answer

Shell-shock

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Question

Which poem are the following lines taken from?


Show me the two so closely bound

As we, by the wet bond of blood,

By friendship blossoming from mud,

By Death: we faced him, and we found

Beauty in Death,

In dead men, breath. (l.13-18)

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Answer

'Two Fusiliers'

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Question

Which poem are the following lines taken from?


In a great mess of things unclean, 

Sat a dead Boche; he scowled and stunk 

With clothes and face a sodden green, 

Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired 

Dribbling black blood from nose and beard (l.8-12)


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Answer

'A Dead Boche'

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Question

Who is Vera Brittain?

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Answer

Vera Brittain was a writer and poet, and was also well-known for her strong socialist, pacifist, and feminist views. She joined World War I as a military nurse in 1915  

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Is Testament of Youth a true story?  

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Yes, Testament of Youth is a true story 

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What did Vera Brittain die of?  

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Brittain’s health had been declining for a long time, as she suffered from motor neurone disease. On the 29th of March 1970, Vera Brittain died

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How did Vera Brittain feel about the war?  

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Vera Brittain was a pacifist, and so she was opposed to war and/or violence 

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Who is Vera Brittain's family? 

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Vera Brittain was born to parents Thomas and Edith. She also had a younger brother named Edward.   

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What is the name of Vera Brittain's closest friend?

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Answer

Winifred Holtby 

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Which poem are the following lines taken from?


Four years,' some say consolingly. 'Oh well, 

What's that? You're young. And then it must have been 

A very fine experience for you!' 

And they forget 

How others stayed behind and just got on - 

Got on the better since we were away (l.1-6)

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Answer

‘The Lament of the Demobilised’ 

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Question

Which poem are the following lines taken from?


Perhaps some day the sun will shine again, 

And I shall see that still the skies are blue. 

And feel once more I do not live in vain, 

Although bereft of You (l.1-4)

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Answer

'Perhaps'

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Question

Which poem are the following lines taken from?


When you have lost your all in a world's upheaval, 

Suffered and prayed, and found your prayers were vain, 

When love is dead, and hope has no renewal - 

These need you still; come back to them again (l.1-4)  


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Answer

'Hospital Sanctuary'

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Which of Vera Brittain's loved ones died during the First World War?

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Answer

Both her fiance Roland and brother Edward died in the War

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What happened to Vera Brittain's father?

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Answer

Vera Brittain's father committed suicide in 1935

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Who did Vera Brittain marry?

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Vera Brittain married political scientist and philosopher George Edward Catlin in 1925

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What was Vera Brittain's upbringing like?

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Vera Brittain’s family were middle-class, and she grew up to enjoy a home environment of wealth and comfort 

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Where did Vera Brittain attend university?

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Vera Brittain attended university at Somerville College, a constituent of Oxford University

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Where is Vera Brittain buried?

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Answer

Half of Vera Brittain's ashes are buried in the churchyard of St James the Great, Warwickshire (England), and the other half are buried in Italy, at the Granezza British Cemetery. 

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What was Maya Angelou's birth name?

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Answer

Marguerite Annie Johnson 

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Who did Maya Angelou go to live with when she was three (1931)?

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Answer

Maya Angelou went to live with her grandmother Annie Henderson in Stamps, Arkansas.  

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What happened to Maya Angelou when she was eight? 

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Answer

She was raped by her mother's boyfriend.

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For how long was Maya Angelou a selective mute?

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Answer

Just under five years - between the ages of eight and twelve-and-a-half.

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Who was Mrs. Flowers?

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Answer

Maya Angelou's teacher who encouraged her to start speaking again.

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Question

True or false? Maya Angelou had her first and only child at age seventeen.

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Answer

True. At age sixteen, Angelou became pregnant. Three weeks after graduating from high school, at seventeen, she gave birth to her only child Clyde in 1945. 

Show question

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