The Magnificent Maya Angelou


Hosted by the CADRE office at ABLA, I joined residents from that development and we left the complex at 6:30 p.m. We arrived at the New Rosemont Theater at 8 p.m. on June 9. The event was the last night of the series of women’s lectures hosted by Janet Davies, entertainment reporter for ABC Channel 7 News. Tonight was an evening with Maya Angelou, the world-renowned poet. The series was called “Unique Lives And Experiences,” North America’s foremost women’s lecture tour. The series had featured Laura Bacall, author of “My Life, My Career,” Mary Tyler Moore, in a lecture entitled “Thoroughly Modern Mary,” Linda Ellerbee and Sara Ferguson, the Duchess Of York. But tonight was Maya’s night.

Maya Angelou is hailed as one of the greatest speakers of our time the world over. Her words have been an inspiring, comforting, encouraging and strengthening for millions. She is a poet, playwright, director, producer and best-selling author. She is also a social activist. She does not claim any single profession but she excels in all the jobs she undertakes. She puts fire in her spoken word. She is spiritual earthy, dramatic and genuine. She is a brave and bold woman.

She came out on stage, in her sunshine yellow evening suit. She had on gold pumps, which only added to her impressiveness because she is 6 feet tall. She is a cocoa brown woman and she has an air about herself. She has that deep, clear voice I enjoy so much. The first time I became aware of Maya she was on the college channel hosting Humanities Thru The Arts. I was taking college courses to get my degree and the course she hosted was one of my classes. I didn’t miss any because I loved listening to her poems and her voice.

She began to speak: She was born in St. Louis but was sent to her grandmother’s in Alabama. Her grandmother raised her and her brother who was 2 years older. She had learned to read by reading the Bible for her grandmama. She would sing in the church too, although she never had any training in that art form either. She would read to her brother at night after grandmama had gone to bed.

When she was 6 years old and she and her brother returned from school one afternoon, their bags had been packed by grandmama. They were told that their father would be there soon to take them to California to be with their mother. They were left with their mother. One day, one of her mother’s boyfriends raped her. She didn’t tell anyone at first. But her brother kept asking her what had happened because he could see a change in her. After much probing on his part, she finally told her brother, who then told the elders. The man was put in jail for one day. After that day, he was released from jail. They found him in an alley later with his head kicked in; he was dead. When Maya found out, she stopped speaking. She never spoke another word until she was 13. She believed that if she opened her mouth, people got hurt and hurt bad. People thought she was mentally ill and shied away from her all the time. Her mother gave up and sent her back to live with her grandmother. During the time when she wouldn’t utter a sound, she would be alone somewhere with a book or something else to read. She studied every piece of literature she could find. She especially loved to read poetry. Her favorite was Langston Hughes, the dean of Black literature. She says she enjoyed Shakespeare too. During her silent period, she studied them all. Her grandmother had told her that she would always be there for her so, before it was time for her to graduate from school, she finally began to talk. During her silence, she had also written some prose of her own, which she wanted to read at the ceremony held in the church to which her grandmother belonged.

There was much protest but granny was a big wheel in the community, so they allowed it. After that, there was no stopping her. She has written many small books of her poetry and she has written many biographies; her fourth was “The Heart of a Woman,” which began with the line, “I know why a caged bird sings,” which is also the title of one of her smaller books of poetry. She also wrote, “I Shall Not Be Moved.” In 1975, she became the North region coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the group founded by Dr. Martin Luther King.

Also in 1975, she received the Woman of the Year award from Ladies Home Journal. She is on the board of trustees of the American Film Institute and has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show several times.

As she strutted across the stage, she told us that we could all be writers, that we are all unique in our own way. She convinced me that I am the funniest person I know and that I am phenomenal. She said, “Men are phenomenal too but no one has written a poem to them” as she began to recite her poem, “Phenomenal Woman”:

Pretty woman wonder where my secret lies…

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model size,

But when I start to tell 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 steps…

The curl of my lips

I’m a woman, phenomenally

Phenomenal woman, that’s me.

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please

And to a man

The fellows stand, or

Fall down on their knees

Then they swarm around me

A hive of honey bees

I say

It’s the fire in my eyes

And the flash of my teeth

The swing of my waist

And the joy in my feet

I’m a woman, phenomenally

Phenomenal woman, that’s me.

Men them selves have wondered

What they see in me

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery

When I try to show them

They say they still can’t see

I say

It’s in the arch of my back

The sun of my smile

The ride of my Breast

The grace of my style

I’m a woman, phenomenally

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me

The show is also produced in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Minneapolis and New York. You can visit the website at:

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