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If you like Maya Angelou's story, you might also like:
Benjamin Carson,
Rita Dove,
Ernest J. Gaines,
Louise Glück,
Lauryn Hill,
Naomi Judd,
Coretta Scott King,
John R. Lewis,
W.S. Merwin,
N. Scott Momaday,
Jessye Norman,
Rosa Parks,
Sidney Poitier,
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Amy Tan,
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Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Maya Angelou in the Achievement Curriculum area:
The Road to Civil Rights
Martin Luther King Day

Maya Angelou also appears in the videos:
The Content of Your Character

A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Vol. I

A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,Vol. II

Related Links:
Maya Angelou - Official Website

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Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou
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Maya Angelou Interview (page: 2 / 9)

Poet and Historian

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  Maya Angelou

What does Dr. Martin Luther King's dream symbolize to you?

Maya Angelou: The dream of Martin Luther King, for me, represents the best the human being can hope for -- a world of peace, of development, a world of respect, a world where all men and women are valued, none higher than the other, none lower than the other because of his or her color or his or her race or his or her religion or cultural persuasion. That is the best we can hope for. And so when we speak of the dream, I think if Martin Luther King said he had a dream, I think this is the dream of America. This is us at our best.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

Do you find yourself mouthing the words when you hear the "I Have a Dream" speech after all these years?

Maya Angelou: Yes, of course. I have been so pleased to see young black men and young black women, and young white men and women, and Spanish-speaking, sometimes 12 years old and nine years old, reciting "I Have a Dream" with the passion and fervor of youth. It tells me so clearly that the speech, as much as the man, belongs to us all.

Dr. King's speaking style -- the "I Have a Dream" speech in particular -- do you think it had an influence on your own writing, your poetry?

Maya Angelou: The music of the "I Have a Dream" speech is a replication of the music which comes out of the mouths of the African American preacher. Preacher, singer, blues singer, jazz singer, rap person, it is so catching, so hypnotic, so wonderful that, as a poet, I continue to try to catch it, to catch the music. If I can catch the music and have the content as well, then I have the ear of the public. And I know that's what Martin Luther King was able to do, not just in the "I Have a Dream" speech -- although that has become a kind of poem which is used around the world -- but in everything he said there was the black Southern Baptist or Methodist preacher, singing his song, telling our story -- not just black American story either, but telling the human story. And as a poet, if I can replicate that, I am okay, Jack.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

View Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, "I Have a Dream" speech on the
steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963.

You've spoken about the music and the content of the "I Have a Dream" speech as two different things to emulate. How do you see the relation of style and substance in rhetoric, or in writing?

Maya Angelou: The substance is the issue which most moves you. If it is a love for civil rights, then that is the substance. How you get it over -- you should be able to change style the same way you change your jackets. That is to say, in one circumstance, you might need to preach. In another circumstance, to get your idea over. In another, you may have to tell a joke. In another, you may have to sing some long, lonesome blues. But you should be able to change that; be intelligent enough to know where to put what, so that you don't try to swim on the stove. Do you understand? That is it, and you don't try to tap dance in the swimming pool. So then, when you have the substance, you decide what style shall I deliver this? In which style shall I deliver this? Shall I be quiet and put my hand on my cheek and act as if I am deep? Or shall I tell a joke or shall I make myself a buddy to someone in order to get my substance over?

Your work with Dr. King, do you think that was the most character-building event in your life?

Maya Angelou Interview Photo
Maya Angelou: Well, there have been so many, and I hope still many. Certainly, working for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was very important for me. Developing a brother/sister relationship with Malcolm X has been very important to me. Being friends with Dr. Johnnetta Cole has been very important to me. The sisters and brothers that you meet give you the materials which your character uses to build itself. It is said that some people are born great, others achieve it, some have it thrust upon them. In truth, the ways in which your character is built have to do with all three of those. Those around you, those you choose and those who choose you. Let me add this, too, I am a very religious person, so it is the presence of God, the constant unwavering, unrelenting presence of God which continues to help me to keep a character which I am proud to show to young men and women. And I will be, I hope, not too ashamed to meet my maker in the final move.

Was Dr. King the person who had the greatest influence on you?

Maya Angelou: He was one of those persons, certainly, but my sister, my grandmother and uncle who raised me, who taught me, by their actions, that it was good to be good, that it was nice to be nice, influenced me more than any other persons have since that time. My family and the family friends continue to inform me that the character I have become will reflect the characters I have been around.

Were you always aware of your own talents? As a girl, you were silent for so many years.

Maya Angelou: I was a mute from the time I was seven and a half until I was almost 13. I didn't speak. I had voice, but I refused to use it. My grandmother, who was raising me in a little village in Arkansas, used to tell me, "Sister, mamma don't care about what these people say: 'You must be an idiot, you must be a moron'. Mamma don't care, sister. Mamma know, when you and the Good Lord get ready, you're gonna be a preacher." Well, I used to sit and think to myself, "Poor, ignorant mamma. She doesn't know. I will never speak, let alone preach." It has devolved upon me to -- not preach, as it were -- but to write about morals, about hope, about desolation, about pain and ecstasy and joy and triumph in the human spirit. So it seems to me, that is my calling. And I write about it for all of us, because I know that human beings are more alike than we are unalike.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

How old were you when you finally realized your talents?

Maya Angelou: I still have not realized my talents.

I believe that each of us comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory. So at this wonderful, young age of 65, I don't know yet what the Lord has for me to do. I try to live up to the energy and to the calling, but I wouldn't dare say I have even scratched the surface yet.

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This page last revised on Dec 06, 2013 16:27 EDT
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