“I  learn a lot from the writers, from those I’ve met and those I’ve never met. I’ve learned a lot from those who’ve died before I came a long and those who are alive.” — Maya Angelou talking to KCRW’s Bookworm

Poet, author, and activist Maya Angelou has died at age 86. She appeared on KCRW’s Bookworm several times, most recently in 2005, when she told Michael Silverblatt about writing “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings””

“I was inventing myself, but also being invented by my ancestors and my family and by the times in which I lived, by the system in which I lived. I was being created. I lived in my little village in Arkansas, when being Black was so onerous that people said, ‘that town was so prejudiced that black people couldn’t eat vanilla ice cream.’ I was certainly created in part, by the times and by the people in history, but I had something to say about it it too.”

She also joined KCRW’s Tom Schnabel in 1995 for a guest DJ set, as he remembers:

She was wearing Malian mud cloth slacks. It was an El Niño year and it was pouring buckets outside. I welcomed her to sunny Southern California.  The guest mike wasn’t working, there was no engineer on duty to fix it, but I had prepared and was ready. She did correct me, however, when I pronounced her name “Angelou” with the long “u”;  she preferred “Angeloh”.  Since she wore so many hats, I asked her how best to describe her. She said it would be as a writer.

She was nominated for a Pulitzer prize, received the Presidential Medal of Arts, and invited to recite a poem at President Clinton’s inauguration.

 

The Washington Post writes about her political activism.

In 1960, she became the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where she helped raise funds for the civil rights movement and met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. When she resigned six months later, she sent King a letter that noted, “I join with millions of black people the world over in saying, ‘You are our leader.’ “northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where she helped raise funds for the civil rights movement and met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. When she resigned six months later, she sent King a letter that noted, “I join with millions of black people the world over in saying, ‘You are our leader.’ “

The New York Times has more on her life and the trauma of being raped as a young girl by her mother’s boyfriend.

She told her brother, who alerted the family, and the man was tried and convicted. Before he could begin serving his sentence, he was murdered — probably, Ms. Angelou wrote, by her uncles.

Believing that her words had brought about the death, Maya did not speak for the next five years. Her love of literature, as she later wrote, helped restore language to her.

The New Yorker has a lovely slideshow of Maya Angelou’s life in photos. 

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