Thursday, June 5, 2014
I was honored to be asked by the Chicago Tribune (Printers Row) to reflect on Maya Angelou and her dazzling career. I re-read and read newly. I watched more than two dozen interviews. And over and again, as I worked on the piece, I watched the great life force that was Maya Angelou read her best poem, "And Still I Rise." I encourage you to listen, too. It will change your day. Put some jazz into your shoes.
My piece begins like this:
She bought her clothes for their colors in secondhand shops — "beautiful reds and oranges, and greens and pinks, and teals and turquoise" — and wore them in happy mismatch. She danced feathers and a few sequins to Alvin Ailey's leopard print G-string — shaking everything she had. She spoke French, Spanish, Arabic, Italian, Fanti and easily (mesmerizingly) recited John Donne, William Shakespeare, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Edgar Allan Poe, Langston Hughes, even Publius Terentius Afer, an African slave born nearly 200 years before Christ.
This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.
She worked the Melrose Record Shop selling John Lee Hooker and Charlie Parker; sang her heart out at the Purple Onion; toured Europe as the premier dancer in "Porgy and Bess"; lived in a houseboat commune with "an icthyologist, a musician, a wife, and an inventor"; and once described her life, to a rapt Merv Griffin, as one in which she'd been "obliged to be clever, to dance quickly, to edge-walk."
She brought poetic intimacy to the political; compassion to the margins; fervor to the campaigns of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Barack Obama; and smothered chicken, smoked pork chops and spoon bread to tables wrapped by friends.
and continues here.