|October 12, 2007|
Maya Angelou comes to campus
Maya Angelou, the award-winning poet, civil rights activist and playwright, will speak Monday, Oct. 22, at 7 p.m. in Memorial Chapel as part of the Union College President’s Forum on Diversity.
Her talk is free and open to the public. Seating is limited and members of the campus community will be given priority.
Angelou, 79, is the recipient of dozens of honorary degrees. She became one of only two poets to read an original work at a presidential inauguration when she was invited by President Bill Clinton to speak in 1993. Angelou’s reading of her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” which relates a message of diversity, change over time and equality, was broadcast live around the world. She earned a Grammy award for her work.
Angelou is best known for “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” the first of six volumes of her memoirs. Nominated for a National Book Award, the 1970 autobiography chronicles her experiences growing up black and poor in Arkansas from childhood through the birth of her son, Guy, a few weeks after she graduated from high school.
Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis. Her parents divorced when she was three, and she and her brother, Bailey, were sent to live with their grandmother in rural Stamps, Ark. It was Bailey who gave her the nickname Maya.
In Stamps, young Maya experienced the racial discrimination of life in the American South, but she also absorbed the deep religious faith of traditional African-American life.
When she was 7, Angelou visited her mother in Chicago, where she was molested by her mother’s boyfriend. Traumatized by the incident and the subsequent news that an uncle had killed her attacker, Angelou fell silent and did not speak for five years. At 13, she regained her voice, and she and her brother moved to San Francisco to join their mother.
Angelou eventually married a Greek sailor named Tosh Angelos. When she became a professional singer, she took the name Maya Angelou. She later relocated to New York, where she joined the Harlem Writers Guild and acted in the historic Off-Broadway production of Jean Genet’s “The Blacks” before leaving to become a newspaper editor in Egypt and then a writer, editor and educator in Ghana.
She returned to America in 1964 and became active in the civil rights movement. In 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she found solace in writing and began work on the book that would become “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
A woman of many talents, Angelou also studied modern dance with Martha Graham, danced with Alvin Ailey, and wrote the screenplay and composed the score for the 1972 film “Georgia, Georgia.” Her screenplay, the first by an African American woman to be filmed, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Angelou has published dozens of works, including “Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas,” “The Heart of a Woman” and “Even the Stars Look Lonesome.”
Angelou has also directed and appeared in numerous television programs, including “Roots.” Since 1981, she has been the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.
She hosts a weekly radio show on XM Satellite Radio as part of the Oprah and Friends group of shows.