Photo by Paul Martens
Photo by Paul Martens
Crowds gather at the IU Auditorium to hear Maya Angelou speak April 11.
|“Find some poetry. Memorize it. Keep it for yourself so you can pull it up—not from the computer, but from the original computer—when you need it. And you will need it.”|
| —Maya Angelou||A rainbow found its way into the Indiana University Auditorium in Bloomington on April 11 in the form of Maya Angelou, whose lecture was co-sponsored by Union Board and the Indiana Lectures series.
“’When it looked like the sun / wasn’t going to shine anymore, / God put a rainbow / in the clouds,’” she quoted from an old spiritual. “I think the university is a rainbow in the clouds,” said Angelou, who shared a potpourri of poetry, stories and childhood memories with those listeners lucky enough to have a seat in the filled auditorium. Nowand then, she even offered her voice in song—a rich contralto—in celebration of poetry.
“I’m what the French call a ‘certain age,’” she told the audience and went on to say that she had left Winston-Salem, N.C., at 6 a.m. on a bus to get to Bloomington. On the way, there were stopovers in Indianapolis and Columbus, but she didn’t mind.
“I like Indianapolis because my favorite poet lives there,” Angelou explained, referring to Mari Evans, who taught black literature at IU and received an honorary doctorate at last year’s IUPUI commencement.
Angelou also likes Columbus. “It’s the architectural center of the country. In fact, I like Indiana. I wish you would invite me here more frequently,” she added.
Angelou first became famous in 1970 when I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first volume of her autobiography, was published. She also has worked as an actor, playwright, newspaper editor, professor, film director and singer. She received a Best Supporting Actress Emmy nomination for her role as Nyo Boto in the TV mini-series Roots and appeared in the film How to Make an American Quilt.
But it has been poetry that has inspired her and sustained her. She highly recommended it to all.
“Find some poetry,” she said. “Memorize it. Keep it for yourself so you can pull it up—not from the computer, but from the original computer—when you need it. And you will need it.”
She spoke specifically of African-American poetry, which had given hope to African-American people, lifting and sustaining them through slavery and oppression. “It is so rich, beautiful and so rarely taught and cherished,” she said.
A sustaining force in Angelou’s life was her grandmother. “She predicted that I’d be a great teacher, “ she said, laughing.
Angelou said that there are many things the world needs and suggested that anyone could be the one to provide for those needs, suggesting the influence a university might have.
“On the front row here may be the one who finds a cure for AIDS,” she said, pointing to a student. “Another may find a cure for breast cancer, and still another may help us to learn to live together.”
Returning to poetry, she spoke of her favorite poets and advised, “Poetry will put starch in your backbone. I would not like for you to leave this university without reading some African-American poetry and some Japanese poetry and some Spanish poetry.”
She went on to recommend some of her favorite poets—Paul Laurence Dunbar, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson and Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Edgar Alan Poe is a special choice for her.
“I liked him so much I called him ‘EAP,’” she said, launching into first a pompous recitation of The Raven and then a more natural one.
Shakespeare, too, is high on her personal reading list. “I find myself reading Shakespeare whenever I like. I know it was written for me.”
In the end, it was poetry and rainbows that she wanted to leave with her audience, which honored her with a standing ovation.
“Each of us,” she said, “has the possibility and the privilege of becoming rainbows in the clouds.”