in Kosciusko, Mississippi, Oprah Winfrey was reared by her
grandmother on a farm where she "began her broadcasting
career" by learning to read aloud and perform recitations at
the age of three. From age six to 13, she lived in Milwaukee
with her mother. After suffering abuse and molestation, she
ran away and was sent to a juvenile detention home at the age of
13, only to be denied admission because all the beds were
filled. As a last resort, she was sent to Nashville to live
under her father's strict discipline. Vernon Winfrey saw to
it that his daughter met a midnight curfew, and he required her to
read a book and write a book report each week. "As
strict as he was," says Oprah, "he had some concerns
about me making the best of my life, and would not accept anything
less than what he thought was my best."
Winfrey's broadcasting career began at age 17, when she was hired
by WVOL radio in Nashville, and two years later signed on with
WTVF-TV in Nashville as a reporter/anchor. She attended
Tennessee State University, where she majored in Speech
Communications and Performing Arts.
1976, she moved to Baltimore to join WJZ-TV news as a co-anchor,
and in 1978 discovered her talent for hosting talk shows when she
became co-host of WJZ-TV's "People Are Talking," while
continuing to serve as anchor and news reporter.
January 1984, she came to Chicago to host WLS-TV's "AM
Chicago," a faltering local talk show. In less than a
year, she turned "AM Chicago" into the hottest show in
town. The format was soon expanded to one hour, and in
September 1985 it was renamed "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
nationally since September 8, 1986, "The Oprah Winfrey
Show" became the number one talk show in national syndication
in less than a year. In June 1987, in its first year of
eligibility, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" received three
Daytime Emmy Awards in the categories of Outstanding Host,
Outstanding Talk/Service Program and Outstanding Direction.
In June 1988, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" received its
second consecutive Daytime Emmy Award as Outstanding Talk/Service
Program, and she herself received the International Radio and
Television Society's "Broadcaster of the Year"
Award. She was the youngest person and only the fifth woman
ever to receive the honor in IRTS's 25-year history.
Before America fell
in love with Oprah Winfrey the talk show host, she captured the
nation's attention with her poignant portrayal of Sofia in Steven
Spielberg's 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker's novel, The Color
Purple. Winfrey's performance earned her nominations for
an Oscar and Golden Globe Award in the category of Best Supporting
Actress. Critics again lauded her performance in Native
Son, a movie adaptation of Richard Wright's classic 1940
1991, motivated in part by her own memories of childhood abuse,
she initiated a campaign to establish a national database of
convicted child abusers, and testified before a U.S. Senate
Judiciary Committee on behalf of a National Child Protection
Act. President Clinton signed the "Oprah Bill"
into law in 1993, establishing the national database she had
sought, which is now available to law enforcement agencies and
concerned parties across the country.
Oprah Winfrey was
named one of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century
by Time Magazine, and in 1998 received a Lifetime Achievement
Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and
Sciences. Her influence extended to the publishing industry
when she began an on-air book club. Oprah Book Club
selections became instant bestsellers, and in 1999 she was
presented with the National Book Foundation's 50th anniversary
gold medal for her service to books and authors.
is one of the partners in Oxygen Media, Inc., a cable channel and
interactive network presenting programming designed primarily for
women. In 2000, Oprah's Angel Network began presenting a
$100,000 "Use Your Life Award" to people who are using
their lives to improve the lives of others. When Forbes
magazine published its list of America's billionaires for the year
2003, it disclosed that Oprah Winfrey was the first
African-American woman to become a billionaire.