Gifts for Mother Maya by Jolivette Anderson



Maya Angelou’s works have been criticized as works of “uplift” and not genuine art. What are your thoughts on this?

Jolivette:  Art must be functional. Artist must be critical thinkers who observe, analyze, interrogate, and offer solutions to the problems within their (our) communities. As a poet, Dr. Mother Angelou observed the pain of her people.

She analyzed the conditions of her people. She interrogated herself to see how she could best contribute to the ongoing work, begun before she was born, to help heal the hurt and pain of her people. It is obvious that her answers came in the form of ‘be positive’ and ‘uplift’ your people with your work and words and your work-in-words. There is nothing more genuine than seeing ones own humanity and the humanity of others and being positive in the face of treacherous negativity.

How would you characterize Angelou’s style—her language, her tone, her choice of metaphors, and so on?


 Jolivette:  In my opinion, Mother Maya Angelou uses language that is simple and direct.  Her choice of words blend Black vernacular with “proper” English and in that she shows the breadth and depth of Black struggle because we are always trying to move from an improper place to a proper one based on how we have been viewed in society. Mind you, I am not saying we indeed are an improper people. What I am saying is that we have been made to appear to be an improper people based on African ancestry and identity alone.
Her tone is dignified and upright. To read her is one thing. To hear her is another. Once you have heard her, you will never read her without hearing her in your ear she finds the rhythm of life in human interaction and places it on the page for other to find.

Her choice of metaphors mirror her intent to uplift and show the value in our humanity as Black people, as women. “I dance like I’ve got diamonds at the meeting of my things”, I mean come on now. If a person cannot see the comparison, recognize the value in the material that she is placing on the Black woman in that one line then we really need to stop, step back, slow down and give ourselves permission to be beautiful and valuable to us, first and foremost and to hell with what other people think.

There are a lot of strong women narrated in Angelou’s work, which one resonates strong with you and why?

Jolivette:  Our grandmothers. Period! Why, because in that poem she maps out the will to run away and the will to run ALL the way to some kind of freedom. Running to freedom was not always a physical running, it was mental, spiritual, emotional… and it kept us fed, it kept us alive to be here in this moment, to have this conversation. To navigate the world as woman means to do work, work and more work.  It is to acquire and share wisdom. It is to keep folk alive so the future can transition into the present. This is what women do and this is a small part of the work of Our Grandmothers. I aspire to be a Grandmother whether my daughter has children or not.  To be a Grand Mother is to be an honored Elder. In Ifa, it is to be an Iyaami.

Share the influence Angelou has had on American literature.

Jolivette:  Dr. Maya Angelou has influenced American literature by writing her Black truth. The Black truth is brutal in its power and ability to uplift. To take centuries of degradation, terrorism hatred, and oppression and turn it into love is her gift to American literature and to American people. The power Dr. Angelou’s written and the spoken word is divine speech whispered in the ear of Satan. America being Satan Maya Angelou contributed to the fact that even the devil listens and responds, even if he continues to do what it is his job to do.
Jolivette Anderson-Douoning is an Interdisciplinary scholar whose research is grounded in the Humanities and Applied Professions disciplines. 
Also known as Jolivette Anderson ‘the poet warrior’, she is a Race and Culture Educator who uses “Third Space Theory” to develop teaching and learning experiences that facilitate greater understandings of Black cultural existence and experience in the United States.
She is a Phd student and research assistant in American Studies / Curriculum and Instruction at Purdue University. Her current research examines the purpose and relevancy of Black Cultural Centers between 1965 to 1995 and interrogates the future of BCC in a post – Obama United States of America. 
She has four recordings of poetry and prose: Love and Revolution UndergroundAt the End of a Rope in MississippiJolivette Live: A Bluesy Funk Life Cycle, and She Energy.
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