Maya Angelou to speak Jan. 22 at ASU
Dr. Maya Angelou is a world-famous author, poet, filmmaker,
educator and activist who has lived an adventurous and varied life.
She has won three Grammy Awards, received the Lincoln Medal and was awarded the prestigious Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000.
On Tuesday evening, Jan. 22, Angelou will speak at Appalachian State University’s Holmes Convocation Center at 7 p.m., as part of the university’s 29th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration. The program will be free to the public, and no tickets will be required. The venue’s doors will open at 6 p.m.
In April, Angelou will release her latest book, titled “Mom & Me & Mom.”
As this exclusive Mountain Times interview with Angelou begins, I start by mentioning her biography, with all of its diverse experiences, including time as a Calypso singer, a professional dancer and a Tony Award-nominated Broadway actor.
Then, I infer that I have never been too impressed with writers, preachers or musicians that have led a different kind of life than hers, those who choose a more conforming and sheltered path. What came to mind was a quote I read years ago by Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Michener, who suggested that young writers should get out from behind the desk and travel, experience new things and meet people of all different races and cultures.
While Angelou agrees with Michener’s advice, she quickly points out that you never really know what trail an individual has taken, and to hastily judge someone’s life journey is irresponsible and unfair.
“You see, what would hurt one person, might not hurt another,” Angelou said. “What would bring another person to their knees, another person would stand up and tip-toe. So, that person that we look upon from the outside and we say, ‘Oh, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth,’ well, we don’t know all that happened.
“We don’t know if that spoon was tarnished and the person who had it in his mouth ingested rust. I can’t say that I don’t respect the person that hasn’t gone through what I’ve gone through. What he has gone through, and what she has gone through, has been more telling and injurious to them than what I went through was to me. I may have had some mitigating circumstances, like the love of my grandmother. I have the love of my son. Before that, I had the love of my brother. And I had books.”
Angelou further proves this point by telling a true story about a person she met during one of her many overseas adventures. While Angelou is a person who demands respect, the key to that is she demands that others be respected, as well – no matter their station in life.
“I’m not really chastising you as much as I’m just saying that, for me, I am very loathe to judge another person by my measuring stick,” Angelou said. “I was living in France, working as a dancer and singer, I was in my 20s, and I met a girl who was really broke. An American girl who was white, and she was trying to write songs, music. So, I felt sorry for her. From time to time, I would lend her a few bucks, a few francs. If I bought something for myself, I’d buy an extra for her. The truth is that her people didn’t send her anything.
“When I came back to the States, I was singing in the Village (Greenwich Village in New York City), and she came down. Then, she asked me to come to her place for lunch with her mother and father. I went, and she lived on Park Avenue. The doorman flinched when I came to the door and said, ‘I’m looking for Mr. and Mrs. Davis.’ He called upstairs to see if they really wanted somebody who looked like me up there, tall and black and not dressed in minks to the floor, and they said, ‘Yes.’
“He showed me to the elevator and punched the floor. A French maid opened up the gate and bade me in, and the girl – her name was Quinn – welcomed me and said that her parents were waiting at the table. I met her parents, and I didn’t know what to say to them, with all of that finery. So, I said, ‘What business are you in, Mr. Davis?’ He said, ‘Money.’ And not one of them smiled at that. I realized that she had all of that money, she came from it and if he died she’d inherit it, but she had no joy in her life, which was sad.”
Angelou’s appearance will take place as a part of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Commemoration. Back in the 1960s, she spent time with both King and Malcolm X.
“You know, I think it is amazing and sad that many people don’t know that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were men, just as you are, human beings just as I am,” Angelou said. “And they had tremendous senses of humor – funny, funny folks. But they make the heroes to be larger than life. And then, young people say, ‘You mean that, with all of this man’s life and death, and all of this courage and all of this pizzazz, he couldn’t make any difference in the world? Well then, there is no point in me trying because I’m just an ordinary guy, an ordinary gal.’ Which, is why I enjoy speaking to young people. I have something to say.”
According to event organizers, Angelou’s comments will center on the Civil Rights movement in the United States and the legacy of King. The event also includes performances by the ASU Gospel Choir, directed by Dr. Keith McCutchen, with special guests from the Hayes School of Music and a special presentation by the sisters of the Omicron Kappa Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
In addition, Angelou’s works will be sold on the Holmes Center’s concourse level, courtesy of the University Bookstore.
Due to a tight travel itinerary, Angelou will not be available for photos, signings or meeting with audience members.
Event organizers also suggest that those planning to attend should allow extra travel time and dress warmly in case the line extends outside the Holmes Center doors. Bags will be checked at the door, and no flash photography or recording of any kind is permitted.
For information about seating and parking, visit http://www.theholmescenter.com or call the Holmes Center box office at (828) 262-6603. For more information about the event, call ASU’s Office of Multicultural Student Development at (828) 262-6157.