"Autobiographies of great nations are written in three manuscripts – a book of deeds, a book of words, and a book of art.
Of the three, I would choose the latter as truest testimony." - Sir Kenneth Smith, Great Civilisations

"I must write each day without fail, not so much for the success of the work, as in order not to get out of my routine." - Leo Tolstoy

I have never believed that one should wait until one is inspired because I think the pleasures of not writing are so
great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again. - John Updike

"The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour
is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it." - J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Maya Angelou - Portrait of a Legendary Poet, Writer, Playwright, Performer, Civil Rights Activist

Maya Angelou: she refused to be cowed by past mistakes or indiscretions | Photograph: Wayne Miller/Supplied

Maya Angelou and Still I Rise review -
perceptive portrait of legendary writer

by Lanre Bakare
January 27, 2016

In the opening moments of Maya Angelou and Still I Rise, Hillary Clinton says it would be sad if the poet, thinker, and performer were only to be remembered for one thing, alluding to her classic work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. But this documentary – put together by Bob Hercules and first-time film-maker Rita Coburn Whack, shows the varied, creative and often brutal back story that created one of America’s finest writers.

Starting with her upbringing in Stamps, Arkansas, the directors use Angelou’s unmistakably raspy narration to weave a story of abuse and neglect. Her mother leaves home, and a seven-year-old Angelou is raped by her mother’s new boyfriend when they are reunited in St Louis. After she tells people about the rape, her attacker is arrested and released before his corpse is found: seemingly, he has been beaten to death. It’s a moment that profoundly affects Angelou, who not only has to recover from the assault but also the fact that she now believes her words were responsible for his death. She decides not to speak for five years. The thought of Angelou being mute is shocking, not least because the film is so much better thanks to her voice. She could read a shopping list and make it thrilling.

Angelou finds her voice again when learning poetry – she reads every book in the black library. It’s from here we learn about her developing into a performer. She moves to San Francisco and begins a career onstage; she also gives birth to her son Guy Johnson (there’s an amazing moment when she describes losing her virginity and how underwhelming she found the whole process). Johnson steals the show. His accounts of their life together (and apart) are heartbreaking and tinged with anger. He talks about the time American entertainer Pearl Bailey stopped his mother from being her understudy because she considered her too ugly. It was a decision that meant they’d be separated again because Angelou would have to go back on the road in a touring company. There’s a mix of fury and pride as he tells the story of Bailey getting a lifetime achievement award and choosing Angelou as the person who should give it to her. His mother did it happily, without mentioning the pain she had caused.

It’s their relationship that drives the action again as Angelou becomes involved in the civil rights movement, spending time with James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, as well as operating on the front lines of protest despite the dangers. Throughout everything she is outspoken and defiant, refusing to be cowed by past mistakes or indiscretions. The only times she is withdrawn is when discussing her son’s accident in Ghana, during which he broke his neck and almost died.
What Coburn Whack and Hercules do so well is capture Angelou’s power and elegance, which seems to have increased as she got older. An important figure throughout the 60s, in the 70s and 80s she developed into a maternal figure for black America, ushering in the period of Oprah and black female empowerment. It’s that longevity and creative drive that the film celebrates. No hagiography, it paints a portrait of a life lived to the full and dedicated to being true to oneself.

Still I Rise
Maya Angelou, 1928 - 2014

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.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Poet Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou
1928-2014 , St. Louis , MO

Maya Angelou was an author, poet, historian, songwriter, playwright, dancer,
stage and screen producer, director, performer, singer, and civil rights activist.

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928. She grew up in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas. She was an author, poet, historian, songwriter, playwright, dancer, stage and screen producer, director, performer, singer, and civil rights activist. She was best known for her autobiographical books: Mom & Me & Mom (Random House, 2013); Letter to My Daughter (2008); All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986);The Heart of a Woman (1981); Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (1976); Gather Together in My Name (1974); and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), which was nominated for the National Book Award.

Among her volumes of poetry are A Brave and Startling Truth (Random House, 1995); The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (1994); Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993); Now Sheba Sings the Song (1987); I Shall Not Be Moved (1990); Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? (1983); Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well (1975); and Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie (1971), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

In 1959, at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Angelou became the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. From 1961 to 1962 she was associate editor of The Arab Observer in Cairo, Egypt, the only English-language news weekly in the Middle East, and from 1964 to 1966 she was feature editor of the African Review in Accra, Ghana. She returned to the United States in 1974 and was appointed by Gerald Ford to the Bicentennial Commission and later by Jimmy Carter to the Commission for International Woman of the Year. She accepted a lifetime appointment in 1982 as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In 1993, Angelou wrote and delivered a poem, “On The Pulse of the Morning," at the inauguration for President Bill Clinton at his request. In 2000, she received the National Medal of Arts, and in 2010 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

The first black woman director in Hollywood, Angelou wrote, produced, directed, and starred in productions for stage, film, and television. In 1971, she wrote the original screenplay and musical score for the film Georgia, Georgia, and was both author and executive producer of a five-part television miniseries “Three Way Choice.” She also wrote and produced several prize-winning documentaries, including “Afro-Americans in the Arts, a PBS special for which she received the Golden Eagle Award. Angelou was twice nominated for a Tony award for acting: once for her Broadway debut in Look Away (1973), and again for her performance in Roots (1977).

Angelou died on May 28, 2014, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she had served as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University since 1982. She was eighty-six.

Maya Angelou, 1928 - 2014

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
‘Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

*From Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1975 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted with permission of Random House, Inc. For online information about other Random House, Inc. books and authors, visit the website at www.randomhouse.com.