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A Unique Celebration - An Evening With Maya Angelou

The packed theatre was on its feet roaring with applause and gratitude the second Dr. Maya Angelou took the stage. "When it looked like the sun wasn't going to shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds." she sang, starting the program. The legend talked about hope, humanity and diversity during her hour-long lecture on Tuesday, May 20, at the Palace Theatre in Albany, NY. Throughout the program she took us from her childhood to the present, weaving stories with poems - sprinkling in laughter through sadness. The fundamental theme of the night was uniqueness. She explained that we are all unique; all human beings. and once you realize, "we are all paid for" you will be liberated.

Maya described how she was born in California. Her parents divorced when she was younger and was sent with her brother Bailey by train to Stamps, Arkansas, a segregated rural town, to live with her grandmother. They traveled alone with name tags on their wrists - she couldn't believe they even made it! Maya described her Uncle Willie, a poor, black crippled man who ran the only black-owned general store in the town. She recounted tales of her uncle teaching her times tables. "Recite your 'fourses', your 'sixes', your 'tens'", she remembered.

Dr. Angelou told the audience that although Uncle Willie was crippled and barely traveled 5 miles outside of Stamps, he still influenced many people, including the first black mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas (who also learned his times tables from Willie). He was a "rainbow in the clouds" she said, shining bright - overcoming diversity and hardship.

Angelou interlaced humor throughout her many stories. She talked about a lunch she had many years ago at a health food diner. She recounted sitting at the table about to have a smoke, when the waitress yelled at her to put the cigarettes away, claiming it would bother the other customers. Her lunch led her to write The Health-Food Diner* poem -

...Health-food folks around the world
Are thinned by anxious zeal,
They look for help in seafood kelp
(I count on breaded veal)...

Irish stews and boiled corned beef
and hot dogs by the scores,
or any place that saves a space
For smoking carnivores.

Her wisdom, humor and humanity was blindingly apparent as her charismatic voice traveled around the Palace Theatre. Her life's journey has been great, and her stories surely touched us all.

And so it ended with her poem written for the 50th anniversary of The United Nations entitled A Brave and Startling Truth**

...We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth...

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

Fun Facts I Learned About Maya Angelou

  • She was mute for several years subsequent to being raped when she was eight.
  • When she was younger, she read every single book in the public library - from A to Z
  • One of her favorite poets is Edgar Allen Poe (or EAP as she refers to him)
  • She wrote a poem for Bill Clinton's 1993 presidential inauguration.
  • She thinks Shakespeare was a black women! (She couldn't believe a man 400 years ago could express the same feelings that she had)
  • Maya Angelou no longer travels by airplane -- not because she is afraid of flying, but too many people recognized her at the airport. Instead she travels by tour bus.


Maya Angelou is a poet, author, actress, speaker, playwright, activist, historian, producer and director. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri as Marguerite Johnson in 1928. Maya has published 10 best selling books, including the popular autobiographical "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings". Angelou speaks French, Spanish, Italian and West African Fanti. She was an active participant in the civil rights movement and became a northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1960s at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Today, she continues to share her voice, vision, literature and poetry by lecturing across the United States and abroad.

* Maya Angelou, Excerpts The Health-Food Diner from Maya Angelou-Poems
Bantam Books

** Maya Angelou, Exceprts from A Brave And Startling Truth
Random House