January 30, 2010
Oprah Winfrey, born in 1954, American talk-show host and actor, whose nationally syndicated program became one of the most popular on television and won numerous Emmy Awards. A major factor in the show’s success is Winfrey’s ability to connect emotionally with her guests.
Born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to unmarried parents who separated after her birth, Winfrey had a difficult childhood as a victim of sexual abuse. At the age of 13 she went to live with her father in Nashville, Tennessee, where she became an excellent student and won a scholarship to Tennessee State University. While in college Winfrey became the first black woman to anchor the news on the local Nashville television station.
After graduating from college in 1976, Winfrey worked as a television newscaster and then as a talk-show host in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1984 she became the host of the talk show A.M. Chicago, which was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1985. Dealing openly with controversial subjects, it achieved national syndication in 1986. That same year, Winfrey formed Harpo Productions to produce her show and other projects. One of her show’s most popular segments is “Oprah’s Book Club.” Beginning in 1996 this book discussion has aired several times a year, each time focused on a work chosen by Winfrey.
In addition to her work on her long-running talk show, Winfrey appeared in several motion pictures. The most prominent were adapted from well-known novels by African American writers. Winfrey’s role as Sofia in The Color Purple (1985; adapted from the book by Alice Walker) won her a 1986 Academy Award nomination as best supporting actress. She also appeared in Native Son (1986; from the book by Richard Wright) and produced and costarred in the television miniseries The Women of Brewster Place (1989; from the book by Gloria Naylor). In 1998 Harpo Films, a division of Harpo Productions, produced the film Beloved, which was based on the novel by Toni Morrison and directed by Jonathan Demme. Winfrey appeared in the film as Sethe. In 2005 The Color Purple opened as a Broadway musical, with Winfrey as coproducer.
Winfrey’s advice to women continues in the lifestyle periodical O: The Oprah Magazine, which debuted in 2000 with Winfrey as its guiding force. Winfrey is also active in philanthropy. She set up The Oprah Winfrey Foundation in 1987 to aid women, children, and families. Oprah’s Angel Network, established in 1998, raises money for charitable causes around the world. She received the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award at the Emmys in 2002.