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If you like Oprah Winfrey's story, you might also like:
Maya Angelou,
Benjamin Carson,
Michael Dell,
Michael Eisner,
Ernest J. Gaines,
Bill Gates,
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Frank M. Johnson,
Quincy Jones,
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Oprah Winfrey's
recommended reading: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Oprah Winfrey also appears in the video:
You Can Do Anything

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Oprah Winfrey in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Talent and Vision

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Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey
Profile of Oprah Winfrey Biography of Oprah Winfrey Interview with Oprah Winfrey Oprah Winfrey Photo Gallery

Oprah Winfrey Interview (page: 3 / 8)

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  Oprah Winfrey

Were there any books that you could remember reading when you were a kid that you loved or that influenced you?

Oprah Winfrey: Well, I loved books so much as a child. They were my outlet to the world. And I still do. People ask me, "What do you do in your spare time?" That's what I do -- I read. There are so many books. I went through a period of Lois Lenski books. She wrote Strawberry Girl, and lots of stories about these little peasant children. I went through a period where I wanted to be them. I would read the character, and whichever book I was reading, that's who I wanted to be that week. I read a book in the third grade about Katie John, who hated boys, and she had freckles. Well Lord knows, I'm not going to have freckles, no way, no how. But I tried to put some on. And I went through my "Katie John" phase. I think the book that moved me most growing up was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I had a tree in my backyard, too, so I identified with her. I just thought, "Well, this is my life." And then I discovered Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Well, first of all, it was the first time I had ever encountered another woman who had been sexually abused. I couldn't imagine, couldn't imagine. I felt that way, too, when I read The Color Purple. I read the first page of The Color Purple, put the book down, and wept. I could not believe it, that someone had put this in writing. It was unbelievable.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

That's a very healing process.

Oprah Winfrey: Well, yes, to know that you are not the only one. Because all this time, you have carried this burden. You think nobody else in the world has been through this. Nobody else is as bad as you. And then you discover that you are not so bad after all. It's an amazing thing.

Your father apparently had a strong influence on you when you were growing up. He was pretty strict, wasn't he?

Oprah Winfrey: Very strict father, but I love him for it today. At the time, I thought I couldn't imagine a human being so strict. And what was he being so strict for? He was a big influence in my life. As strict as he was, 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.

I remember my father saying to me, "You can't bring C's in this house because you are not a C student. If you were a C student you could because I'm not trying to make you do or be anything that you can't be. But you are not a C student; you are an A student. So that's what we expect in this house." It was just so matter of fact. And I knew he was not faking it one bit. I never even tried to bring in a C because I realized that it's just not acceptable. When I was living with my mother, I was very rebellious. As I said, promiscuous and rebellious. I did everything I could get away with. Including faking a robbery at my house to save my glasses and my dog one time. I remember stomping the glasses in the floor and putting myself in the hospital, acting out the whole scene. I used to pull all kinds of pranks. I ran away from home. I got to my father's house, I never told another - I used to lie to my mother all the time. I'd stay out and make up stories. I moved to my father's house. I never told another lie because I knew it wasn't going to be accepted. I knew, "Okay. It stops right here."

It sounds like you realized, even though you were a kid, that you really needed some structure.

Oprah Winfrey Interview Photo
Oprah Winfrey: I needed structure and attention. I require a lot of attention. And now I get the attention of 20 million people. That's a little too much attention. I wanted it, I got it.

Was there someone early on who gave you a big break in the business of broadcasting?

Oprah Winfrey: There are several people. It started out when I was one of two students picked from each state in 1971 to go to the White House Conference on Youth. I don't know who sponsored it, but there was this big White House Conference on Youth, and they picked two people from each state, and from all around the world. So you were part of a whole convention with people from all over the world.

I was being interviewed by a local radio station -- I was 17 at the time. There was a contest being sponsored in town called "The Miss Fire Prevention Contest." And this guy who had interviewed me at the radio station, John Heidelberg, remembered me. But he just remembered that I had given a nice interview and I was a kid, and they needed a teenager. So he said, "What about that girl that was here last year?" Suddenly I was representing this radio station in the "Miss Fire Prevention" contest. Well, all you had to do was walk, parade around in an evening gown, answer some questions about your life. You know, it was one of those little teeny, tiny beauty pageants. Well, nobody expected me to win the pageant because we were still Negroes at the time -- I've been colored, Negro, black, now I'm African-American.

I was the only Negro in a pageant of all red-haired girls and it's the "Miss Fire Prevention" contest. So the Lord knows, I'm not going to win. So I was very relaxed about it. I thought, "Well, I got a new gown, and this is great." So when it came time for the question and answer period, they asked, "What would you do if you had a million dollars?" And one girl said, "If I had a million dollars, I'd buy my mama a Frigidaire and my dad a truck." Someone else said if they had a million dollars they'd buy their brother Bubba a motorcycle because, "He's always wanted one," or they'd give it to the poor. And I said, all totally relaxed because I'm not going to win anyway, "If I had a million dollars, I would be a spendin' fool. I'm not quite sure what I would spend it on, but I would spend, spend, spend. Spendin' fool." Well, I ended up winning. And there was another question about what I would like to do with my life, my career. Well, everybody wanted to be a nurse, or a teacher, and I made this big speech about broadcast journalism -- mainly because I had seen Barbara Walters that morning on The Today Show. So I thought, "Well, what can I be? I can't be a nurse, can't be a teacher because that's what they were." So I said I wanted to be a broadcast journalist because I believed in the truth. I was interested in proclaiming the truth to the world and all. And I won the contest. Well what a shocked Negro, me.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

And that was the beginning of my broadcasting career because...

When I went back to the radio station to pick up my Longines watch and my digital clock, they asked me, would I like to hear my voice on tape? They said, "Would you like to hear your voice on tape?" Just sort of as a little treat for me. "Come here, let's listen to your voice on tape." And so I started to read. Now, I'd been reading since I was three. They couldn't believe how well I read. And, I was hired, there. So somebody said, "Sit down and read," and they said, "Come hear this girl read. " Then someone else listened, and before I knew it, there were four guys standing there listening to me read. And I was hired, seventeen years old, in radio.

At the time I was still a senior in high school, so I had to work after school. I'd finish, get there by 3:30, and I'd do on-the-air newscasts. Well, all my friends just hated me because they were cutting grass.

My sophomore year in college, someone heard me on the radio, and said, "We heard you on the radio, would you be interested in working in television?" I turned them down three times. The third time, I had a college professor. I said, "They keep calling me to be on television. And I know if I do television, I'll never finish school." So he said, "Don't you know that's why people go to school? So that somebody can keep calling them, you nit-wit!" So I went and I interviewed for the job and Chris Clark gave me the job. I interviewed for the job in television. I'd never even been behind the scenes in television. I was 19 at the time. So I decided to pretend to be Barbara Walters because that's how I'd gotten into this in the first place. So I sat there, pretending, with Barbara in my head. Did everything I thought she would do. And I was hired. It's amazing.

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This page last revised on Jul 13, 2012 19:32 EDT
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