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If you like Maya Angelou's story, you might also like:
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Rita Dove,
Ernest J. Gaines,
Louise Glück,
Lauryn Hill,
Naomi Judd,
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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
Profile of Maya Angelou Biography of Maya Angelou Interview with Maya Angelou Maya Angelou Photo Gallery

Maya Angelou Interview (page: 8 / 9)

Poet and Historian

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  Maya Angelou

Is there any one poem or verse that you've used to sustain you through challenges or adversities or difficulties?

Maya Angelou: Well, yes. Some of them are mine, of course.

"And Still I Rise," which is a poem of mine that is very popular in the country. And a number of people use it. A lot of black of people and a lot of white people use it. Which begins:

"You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies;
You may trod me in the very dirt;
But still, like dust, I'll rise."

So there is that poem, and it goes on. And then, a poem just for women, which is called "Phenomenal Women," and I love the poem. I wrote it for black women, and white women, and Chinese women, and Japanese women, and Jewish women. I wrote it for Native American women, Aleut, Eskimo ladies. I wrote it for all women. Very fat women, very thin, pretty, plain. Now, I know men are phenomenal, but they have to write their own poem.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

This one, it says

"Many people wonder
Where my secret lies.
I'm not cute, or built to suit
A fashion model's size.
When I try to show them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say: It's in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman, phenomenally!"

Dr. Angelou, what advice do you have for young poets? How can they get started bringing their work to the public?

Maya Angelou Interview Photo
Maya Angelou: Well, you could read your poetry in church. You could offer to give a poetry reading at an elementary school and a middle school and a high school, in your area. If you belong to a church, say, on some Sunday afternoon, "I would like to read my poetry," and then go to the school. Go to the English Department and say "I would like to read my poetry, if you please, at some assembly." Try, start always at home. This is my encouragement to all writers, start at home. All virtues and vices begin at home, and then spread abroad. If you live in Orangeburg and people start to like you in Orangeburg, before you know it, somebody in Columbia, South Carolina will say, "Why don't you come up here and read your poetry?" And then someone in Winston-Salem, where I live, might say, "Come to North Carolina and read your poetry," but start at home.

Many teachers who work with minority students and disadvantaged students want to teach their students self-esteem and pride in where they come from. Poetry has a role to play in that. So many young people are fascinated by rap music, and that doesn't have to be negative. Do you have any ideas about using that interest in rap to lead them to poetry and pride in their roots?

Maya Angelou: Absolutely. Take "A Negro Love Song" by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Mr. Dunbar wrote this poem in 1892. It could have been written last week for Queen Latifah, or M.C. Hammer or L.L. Cool J, or whoever they are. Just listen to a couple of lines. The man is speaking, but this is a woman's poem. It says:

"Seen my lady home last night.
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Held her hand and squeezed it tight.
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Heard her sigh that little sigh,
Saw that light gleam in her eye,
Saw a smile go flittin' by.
I say, jump back, honey, jump back!"

Whooh! And it goes on. It would just please you no end.

And also, get Paul Laurence Dunbar's "Little Brown Baby," and let some of the girls do it.

"Little brown baby with sparklin' eyes,
Come to your papa and sit on his knee.
What you been doin', sir? Makin' sand-pies?
Look at that bib. You as dirty as me."
You see? Give them that. And give them my poem, "Weekend Glory."

Both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King believed in something that you have alluded to, which was the building up of a positive racial pride, a positive sense of self, without the necessity to demean others. A genuinely strong self doesn't rely on demeaning someone else to feel strong. Where can kids today get the support to keep pursuing positive choices, when there are so many negative influences out there?

Maya Angelou: Well, again, I put the weight back on us.

We, the teachers, those of us who are the television producers, I mean, and speakers, interviewers, the professors, the parents, we have to broaden our thinking. We must do to include all the children, you see? There are Asian children watching. Those children need to know that they have already been paid for. They need to be reminded that in the 1850s the Asians came to this country and built the railroads. They need to know that for centuries -- I mean for decades, they were unable legally to bring their mates. They need to know that, that they have been paid for. They need to be encouraged to read Kenzaburo Oe and Kobo Abe, and Janice Mirikitani, and Maxine Hong Kingston, Ishiguru. They need to be encouraged to read, so that they can say, "Oh, wait just a minute. I'm not here at anybody's sufferance. This is my country." You see?

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Spanish-speaking children, we should remind them of the beauty and the poetry in their own language, and that in fact this is proof of their worthiness and the worthiness of their language. I would read to them from Garcia Lorca and Carlos Fuentes and Octavio Paz, so they could get some sense of themselves, and start right now to read poetry aloud. Read Garcia Lorca aloud.

Let's talk about multi-cultural learning in the classroom. We often hear that if we learn about each other's cultures, we will all get along better. But many people fear that learning about other cultures somehow downplays or devalues their own.

Maya Angelou: The truth is very important. No matter how negative it is, it is imperative that you learn the truth, not necessarily the facts. I mean, that, that can come, but facts can stand in front of the truth and almost obscure the truth. It is imperative that students learn the truth of our history. However sad, however mordant, however terrible, we must know it. The only way out of something is all the way through it. You must see it, read it, study it, and then you can pass through it, you see? It is imperative that young white men and women study the black American history. It is imperative that blacks and whites study the Asian American history. You should know that the Asians built these railroads, that they were brought here, as Maxine Hong Kingston said, to Gold Mountain in the 1850s, in the 1840s, unable legally to bring their mates for eight decades. It's important that you know that, otherwise how can you make friends? Only equals make friends, you see?

You need to know what happened with the pogroms in Russia and Poland. You must know it, because you are living next door to, being taught by, or going to teach or marry somebody who is a descendant from that group of people. You need to know it. Don't hesitate to learn the most painful aspects of our history, understand it.

So many young people alive today never saw the effects that Martin Luther King and Malcolm X had, but they read a lot of your writings. You and other writers bring them a sense of what they need to know. Do you see it that way?

Maya Angelou: Well, each one of us stepped on another's shoulders, you see? So you stand on my shoulders. I stand on Martin's and Malcolm's shoulders, and Medgar Evers's shoulders. And they stood on Dr. DuBois and Marcus Garvey, you see? So we make a wonderful pyramid. That's why it's always important to know you are in your place, because someone went before you, and paid for you. There is a new book that's coming out soon on the nine children who desegregated the high school in Little Rock.

It's called Brave Warriors Don't Cry, or something like that. It's going to be out in a few months. It's an incredible book, and I would encourage it for all young men and women -- all -- just to read what it's like to be 15, and try to go to a school where people are shouting and screaming at you and throwing things and saying how awful you are and that you stink. And then to persevere, to somehow continue, keep your head up, your chin out, you know, and walk on in. It's a marvelous book.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

If Dr. King had not been around in the 1950s and '60s, if he had not been in the leadership of the struggle, would someone else have come along? Where would that leadership have come from?

Maya Angelou: Martin Luther King, Jr. always brought someone along. It is important to see that Martin Luther King and other leaders all did this -- current, contemporary leaders and leaders of antiquity. Whether it was Jesus Christ bringing along 12 men with him, 12 disciples who became apostles, who then kept the idea going. All the time, there were men of leadership and women of leadership qualities who bring someone along with them -- always, by helping them to see.

It is not impossible to become Martin Luther King, to become J.F. Kennedy, to become Mahatma Gandhi, it is not impossible to become Barbara Jordan or Eleanor Roosevelt. That is not impossible, it's within your grasp, absolutely. Those were human beings. So, if you approach that with that idea -- if you approach the future with the idea that I am up to it, I am a man or woman of my time, and I am up to it. I will study hard, pray a lot and all that, but I am up to it. If you do that, then, in case the contemporary leaders fall, there will be someone to step in the place, you see? That is what is important.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Do you think there will be other great leaders like Martin Luther King in the near future? Where will they come from?

Maya Angelou: I don't think that the world ended, as tragic as it was, when Reverend King was assassinated. Young men and women are preparing themselves now for the burden and the glory of being great. And you can't say where the person will come from. She may be growing up in a condominium in Hilton Head or he may be growing up in a log cabin in Charlotte, North Carolina, or in Virginia where you are. He may be Asian, he may be white, he may be black, she may be Native American, she may be Spanish speaking, she may be blond, she may be black-skinned. She'll be an American. That'll be hot, yes? She'll be an American, trying to live at the highest level. So don't, don't become disheartened. Just create yourself. Have enough courage to invent yourself.

Are there particular women you see as potential leaders in our country today?

Maya Angelou: Yes, there are wonderful women, and there are young women right now who will be Senators and Congresswomen in the future. Somebody's going to be it, and those young people are somewhere. So why shouldn't they be you? I really dislike divisions. I dislike them heartily. All comparisons become odious at some point. So, for women and men, what you have to do, as young people, is set your goals just beyond your reach, not so far beyond that you become frustrated, you understand, and think, "I'll never get it," but just beyond, just an inch beyond and keep stretching toward that, toward that goal.

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