Interviewed and written by Dr. Shanessa Fenner
On the morning of our interview, the incomparable Dr. Maya Angelou is busily working in her garden prior to our interview. She discusses her various leading African-American art sculptures, knock- out roses, and azaleas that people stop to photograph.
Shanessa Fenner: I am enjoying your book, Mom & Me & Mom, and I laughed at the part when you and Babe had sex and you asked him, “Is this all that it is?”
Maya Angelou: I had been raped when I was 7 years old. My hope was all these things that I had seen happen in the movies where people sigh and melt was going to happen. That was what it really was about. Well nothing happened. It was painful a little but it didn’t thrill. He was a jerk. He was 20 and I was 16. He did not know how to do any foreplay or encourage his mate to enjoy herself. What he wanted was relief not joy. I had to grow older to understand that.
SF: You discussed in the book about wanting an “even balance.” Talk a little more about obtaining an “even balance” in life.
MA: I think that’s what we all want. We want food, drink, sleep, and entertainment. We want to feel secure wherever we are in our jobs. We want tenure whether we are working as ditch diggers or presidents of a company. We want security as to not only do I work here I am respected and appreciated here. The fundamental desire for balance is the spiritual desire for God. Once that one gets the understanding that there is no place that God is not.
SF: At what point in your life did you find an “even balance?”
MA: I continue to find it. It is a work in progress. It is an honorable search. I have not been wasting time. I have been finding and searching all along for some more. I have not failed.
SF: You discussed “daring to risk everything” in the book. What advice would you give others on risking it all?
MA: I advise them to risk everything since they are doing it anyway. This may be your last day on Earth and you are risking it by not trying to be happy, not trying to be kind, and not trying to be generous or forgiving. You risk everything so why not risk the good things consciously?
SF: Your grandmother raised you and what is the most valuable lesson learned from her and your mother?
MA: There are many but one is when you get, give, when you learn, teach, and that will take you all over the world. My mother said, “Remember you’ve already been raised, you know the difference between right and wrong, and remember this you can always come home.”
SF: What is your favorite Bible verse that gives you strength?
MA: It depends on what time of day and what I need. There is no place that God is not. I love the Psalms 23.
SF: What kind of advice would you give a person who is trying to find their niche in life?
MA: Do the good things, listen to people and someone who needs you, when you make a mistake forgive yourself first then ask God for forgiveness. If you have injured anyone’s feelings go to him or her immediately and sincerely say, “I am sorry.” There’s nothing more powerful that you can say besides I love you. You are offered everyday opportunities to do the good things.
SF: What book are you currently reading?
MA: I am reading Harry Sokal’s “The Seed of the Soul.” I just put down “Proof of Heaven.”
SF: Who are your favorite authors?
MA: It depends on what time of day. I love James Baldwin. I enjoy Nikki Giovanni’s poetry. I also love Susan Sanchez and Eugene Redmond.
SF: When did you first realize you had a love and passion for writing?
MA: I read everything in the black school in my little town. I loved the poetry and the gospel songs. I tried writing and found that I could.
SF: Do you plan on writing more books in the future?
MA: I hope so (laughs).
SF: My favorite poem that you have written is “Reverses.” Tell me about it.
MA: It is exactly that. The tragedy in Oklahoma is one that teaches. You can see the people coming from nearby states, towns, and countries to see if they can be of assistance. Not one person has gone into one of these buildings and said, “Is this a Black child, an Asian person, Spanish, or white man?” They go in there because it is a human being. Why do we have to have a tragedy happen before we realize we are human beings?
SF: What makes you happy?
MA: I am happy. Happy is my nature. I choose to be happy. You can say the glass is half-filled or half empty. I choose to see it as half-filled and I am grateful for that. You have to make a decision about how you are going to live your life. There are people who are depressed and feel that they have nothing. Think about all the people in the world who can’t hear their lover’s murmur, the baby crying, or a siren going off. My philosophy is to make the choice that makes you happy.
SF: What is your greatest blessing?
MA: My son is my greatest blessing. I love him and was never in love with him. I did not want him to be just like me. I wanted him to be himself. He is a wonderful man. He is one of the kindest and courageous human beings I know.
SF: Thank you Mama.
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Last modified: April 17, 2023