- What I Know for Sure (2014)
- Oprah, an Autobiography (1998) with Joan Barthel
- Journey to Beloved (1998) with Ken Regan
- Make the Connection (1996) with Bob Greene
- A Journal of Daily Renewal (1996) with Bob Greene
- In the Kitchen With Rosie: Oprah’s Favorite Recipes (1994)
by Gwendolyn Johnson (SHS)
Oprah Gail Winfrey, a famous black writer, talk show host, and actress, was born on January 29, 1954 , in Kosciusko, Mississippi .(Winfrey) Born to unwed, teenage parents, her mother Vernita Lee was eighteen and a housemaid. Her father Vernon Winfrey was twenty and in the armed forces. Winfrey was named Oprah from the Book of Ruth in the Bible, but her name was later changed to Oprah because it was easier to pronounce. Winfrey lived with her maternal grandmother on a small pig farm in Kosciusko. Oprah stated in one article, ” . . I was once young, poor, and from Mississippi ” She continued, ” I come from such strength and power that it doesn’t matter what people say about me ” (Clarion Ledger 9A). Her first public performance, according to African-American Heritage, was a recitation of the Easter story in the Buffalo United Methodist Church in Kosciusko, Mississippi.
As a youth, Winfrey moved to Milwaukee to live with her mother (Winfrey). Her mother’s lack of supervision enabled several male relatives and friends to sexually abuse Winfrey. The abuse caused Winfrey to run away on many occasions. Winfrey then started to makeup stories to get her mother’s attention. At age fourteen, she gave birth to a premature baby, who died shortly after birth. Oprah was then given an ultimatum, either live with her father and his wife in Nashville, or be sent to a juvenile detention center.
Winfrey, now faced with a threat of being sent to a home for youth, moved to Nashville to live with her father and his wife Zelma. Her father provided her with the discipline that was lacking in his daughter’s life. Oprah states , ” If I hadn’t been sent to my father, I would have gone in another direction.” He gave her a strict curfew and stressed the value of education; under his rule, Oprah turned her life around. She continues, ” I could have made a good criminal. I would have used these same instincts differently” (African American Biography 793).
At age nineteen, Winfrey landed her first job as a reporter at WVOL radio station in Nashville. Shortly afterward, she enrolled at Tennessee State University in Nashville. During her freshman year, Winfrey won several pageants, including ” Miss Black Nashville ” and ” Miss Tennessee” in 1971. She was offered a job by the local CBS television station but declined the position. After graduating in 1976, she accepted a job offer from WJZ-TV, the ABC affiliate in Baltimore, Maryland. In January 1984, Winfrey moved to Chicago to host “A.M. Chicago” for WLS-TV. Later, the show was renamed to The Oprah Winfrey Show. Today, it is the number one talk show in the United States.
Winfrey changed her career from broadcasting to acting when she starred in Alice Walker’s film The Color Purple. Her performance in the film earned her an Academy Award for “best supporting actress” and nominations for a Golden Globe for “best supporting actress.” Later, she produced Gloria Naylor’s novel The Women of Brewster Place, which led to a network series, Brewster Place. She owns screen rights to Kaffir Boy, an autobiography by South African writer Mark Mathabane. Winfrey has partnership in three network affiliated stations and has an interest in The Eccentric, a Chicago restaurant.
Altogether, Winfrey has published six books, In the Kitchen with Rosie, A Journal of Daily Renewal, Make the Connection, The Uncommon Wisdom of Oprah Winfrey, Oprah, and The Private Side of Dr. Maya Angelou (Winfrey). She recently finished the production of the novel Beloved, written by Toni Morrison. Oprah called the film in one article, “my Schindler’s List” (Clarion Ledger: USAWeekend 5). Winfrey worked on the film for about ten years. In an article in The Clarion Ledger, she says, “It is who I am” (CL: USA Weekend 5). And, of course, there is The Oprah Winfrey Show!
Recently, the publishing community gathered in New York City (November, 1999) to honor Oprah Winfrey with a 50th anniversary gold medal for her dedication to reading with her Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club for outstanding literary achievement at the National Book Awards celebration.
by Gwendolyn Johnson (SHS)
1. When and where were you born?
I was born on January 29, 1954, in Kosciusko, Mississippi.
2. How did you come to live with your grandmother?
I was a child out of wedlock, and my mother moved to the North. It actually saved my life. My grandmother gave me a strong foundation for success that I allowed to continue.
3. What happened to you while living with your mother?
I was raped by my cousin when I was nine. Then I was molested by a friend of the family, and then by an uncle. I became a sexually promiscuous teenager and got myself into a lot of trouble and believed that I was responsible for it.
4. As a young child, did you have any idea, any vision, of what you wanted to accomplish?
As a young child, I had a vision, not of what I wanted to accomplish, but I knew that my current circumstances –I was raised on a farm with my grandmother for the first six years of my life –I knew somehow that my life would be different , and it would be better. I never had a clear cut vision of what it was that I would be doing. I remember absolutely physically feeling it at around four years old.
5. Did you ever consider any other career besides talking, broadcasting, acting?
I always wanted to be an actress for most of my adolescent and adult life. My father didn’t want me to be, because his idea was “an actress” was one of these “lewd women” and “how are you going to take care of your life?” So I always wanted to be an actress and I have taken, I think, an around about way to get there because I still don’t feel fulfilled as an actress. I still feel like, okay, once I owned my own studio, but I am thinking, I did all of this to be an actress. I just wanted to be able to act.
6. What gave you the inspiration to write A Journey to Beloved?
In reading Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, I felt that it was necessary for a continuance of the novel to influence the thought of slavery.
7. Have you received any awards for your accomplishments?
Yes I have received numerous awards including an Academy award for “Best supporting actress,” in Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple, a Golden Globe award for “Best supporting actress,” 20 national Daytime Emmy awards, six NAACP Image awards, five CEBA awards, and best in television category on the American Legion Auxiliary’s.
8. What advice do you have for future writers?
As far as advice goes, the most important thing is to read widely. Read your books you can get your hands on, and pay careful attention to the world around you; it’s a wonderful place.
9. What advice do you have for students today?
The most important thing is your education and your success in life.
- Click here to find out what’s on Oprah’s show this week and many other interesting things about the Oprah Show.
- Biography.com page on Oprah Winfrey
- Oprah Winfrey’s IMDb page
- Lynch, Lorrie. “Oprah’s new mission.” The Clarion Ledger: USA Weekend 9-11 Oct.1998: 5.
- “Oprah Winfrey.” The African American Biography 1994: 793.
- Winfrey, Oprah. Personal Interview. 27 Nov. 1998.
- Stringfellow, Eric. “Oprah: ‘ I was once young, poor and from Mississippi.’ The Clarion Ledger 17 Nov.1998: 9A