Maya Angelou's Friend Nikki Giovanni Remembers the Legendary Poet

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 11:33 AM

Poet Maya Angelou died today at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was 86-years-old. Takeaway producer Mythili Rao spoke to poet Nikki Giovanni about her 40-plus-year friendship with Angelou.

Giovanni and Angelou met in New York City. Giovanni can’t remember quite exactly when—they both ran in the same circles of 1950s-60s poets, musicians and activists. But they quickly found they had much in common.

Giovanni notes that from the start, Angelou’s artistic career took a different path from her own. Before Angelou was a poet, she was an actress, and Giovanni says the influence of stage was visible in her work.

“She was a great storyteller,” Giovanni says.

But perhaps even more than Angelou's work, Giovanni admired her friend’s vibrant approach to life.

“She just had a good American touch for always finding the good,” Giovanni says. She tells The Takeaway that when she thinks of Angelou, she remembers a phrase Alex Haley, author of Roots (a friend of both Angelou’s and Giovanni’s) liked to use: “Find the good.”

“I think Maya was probably the major practitioner of ‘find the good and praise it,’” Giovanni says.

Giovanni’s last memory of Angelou is from a visit six months ago, when Giovanni and her Aunt Agnes drove down to Winston-Salem for lunch with Angelou.

“Agnes knows every song that’s been sung up to 1960, but you know Maya knows every song. So they were sitting around singing old Broadway songs— I’m so sorry I didn’t record it. It was the most fun thing, and we were just laughing—and that’s what Agnes said, ‘I’ll always remember the laughter.’”

That laughter—that joy—says Giovanni, epitomized Angelou’s spirit.

“The one thing that needs to be remembered when we think about Maya is that every bit of love and joy that can be squeezed out of life, she got it. You can look at Gandhi and Mother Teresa and stuff—but when you talk about who lived a full and a good and a complete life, you come back to Maya.”


Nikki Giovanni

Produced by:

Mythili Rao


T.J. Raphael


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Comments [1]

Donna Haley from Warwick, NY

Lovely. Thank you so much. I had the good fortune of hearing Maya speak and and read some of her poetry. It was a Sunday service somewhere in New York city years back and I was positively thunderstruck by her power and sensitivity and gorgeous voice. And, of course, what she had to say.
Today I was called in to substitute teach in my town of Warwick, NY. Just before I left I learned the news and printed out one of her writings I had just sent off to my daughter in Malawi, Africa for inspiration(she's working there for the UN) and took it with me. I was meant to be teaching classes in Social Studies and I deemed it a Social Studies 'extravaganza' to introduce, honor and talk about Maya. I read some of 'Still We Rise' and the quote I had brought along, about a paragraph in length. It was so heart warming to hear the students respond so personally and movedly by what she had to tell them.
One student said, "So what does all this have to do with ancient Greece?" which is what they were meant to be reading about. I responded that many fine philosophers had come to us from ancient Greece, and that Maya was a philosopher as well and luckily we lived in her age. Maya said, "I have learned that I still have a lot to learn," and yes, we do.

Donna Haley, Senior Consultant
The Ariel Group
cell: 845.258.8096

Courage, Compassion, Creativity --
Connecting Community through Leadership

May. 28 2014 07:07 PM

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