Tag Archives: maya angelou

“Try to make it to 80!” /Mother Maya

I believe in transition.  I believe energy transforms into something else or somewhere else.  From that perspective,  the universe became stronger a year ago today when Maya Angelou transitioned.

This is one of my favorite photos of her.  She was 82 in this picture and praised her wisdom and the gift of life! I hope you enjoy her words  🙂  We love and miss you Mother Maya!


“82 is hot!  82 is fabulous!  I thought that the 60’s were good, I thought that the 60’s were the hottest ever! And then I got into the 70’s, what?! I loved the 70’s!  I thought well the 80’s, it’s going to be slowing down. Not! I’m writing a cookbook, I’m writing a new poem, a big poem! I’m writing music, I’m writing! I’m working! And I’m talking to you. The 80’s, try and make it! Try to make it to 80.” –   Oprah’s Master Class / Maya Angelou, 2011

Gifts for Mother Maya by Natasha Ria El-Scari

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

Like all types of art, there are many genres within a particular art. I caution against the idea of calling something “genuine” art. When I look at my early poems they may not have been my best work but they came from a real and passionate place. To the core, when we start to qualify what we think is genuine and isn’t, that is classist. If Maya Angelou’s work was accessible then are we not calling it “genuine”. Could she have written her work so that it was available to all people? My personal love for Angelou is that she was accessible and available to me at a time when I had a young poetic voice and was looking to attach to someone’s voice I could relate to. I credit Maya Angelou for being a catalyst for my personal art. I am not a fan of Tyler Perry but there are people who really relate to his work. I could say he isn’t genuine but I think that is problematic, it’s best to say that his current and past art does not appeal to me.

2.)  There are a lot of strong women narrated in Angelou’s works.  Which one resonates with you most and why?

In her book, “Letter to My Daughter” Angelou discusses her tribute to seasoned or older lovers. I  am such a fan of Letter 24 because I believe she saw herself in those lovers. She discusses how her female friend married a man  11 years younger and how others judged it. I think about myself as a woman in the last year of my 30s and I realize that I never want my sexuality to go away. I want to always be able to love, hug, and make love for as long as I am physically able. Recently, I briefly dated someone who was 11 years younger than me and I didn’t find much difference at all except in some of our perceptions. I plan to be a woman who always has a lover or lovers and to have a healthy sexual life. Angelou said, “I commend lovers, I am enheartened by lovers, I am encouraged by their courage and inspired by their passion,” and to that I say, I agree!

3.) How would you characterize Angelou’s style – her language, her tone, her choice of metaphors and on?

Angelou’s language is accessible, available and purposeful. Her tone is that of an older, wise woman who does not waste her words. She is calculated in her language. The literary elements she uses, again, make her poetry something you can teach to young writers as you teach them how to identify simile, metaphor, alliteration and tone. I believe that Angelou is like a primer for poetry and that is a compliment to me. If you have ever seen kindergarten teachers, you would know how important their work is. They go from taking little people with no real reading skills (at least in the past) to people being able to complete their names in print and read simple sentences. Angelou’s work is a fire starter, it is an appetizer for young readers and then for seasoned readers it becomes the wisdom of your grandmothers with a poetic twist and clarity.

4.) Share the influence Angelou has had on American literature.

Angelou is definitely a part of the canon of contemporary American poetry. She has been widely anthologized and her works live in many places. Even people who do not consider themselves lovers of poetry can probably quote you a few lines from “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise”. Like I implied earlier, Angleou’s voice is undeniably the voice of an African American woman from the South, she is clearly American, clearly of the many decades in which she wrote. She was touched by the traditional forms perfected by Dunbar, the intelligence of the Harlem Renaissance, the fervor of the Black Arts Movement, and the metaphoric oneness of contemporary poetry. Regardless of our personal feelings around how “deep” or “smart” her work was, she lived her life as a successful poet and that is something I know I aspire to do as well. One time someone asked me, “They pay you to read and write poems?” and my response was, “We all value different things. There is no way I would have paid for the outfit you are wearing but you saw fit to do so…”


Natasha Ria El-Scari is a writer, Cave Canem fellow, and educator for over a decade. Her poetry, academic papers, and personal essays have been published in anthologies, literary and online journals.  She has opened for and introduced greats like Angela Davis, Marsha Ambroius, Bilal and Saul Williams. She has been also featured at a host of universities and venues nationwide. Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Natasha has a BA from Jackson State University and a MA from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Natasha’s Black Feminist approach is reflected in her writing, poetry and performance pieces. Natasha brings the fire! She is a divorced mother of two awesome children. Once asked in an interview what makes her unique she replied, “…most people lie to themselves, but I like to reveal myself.” For details and booking: www.natasharia.com




Gifts for Mother Maya by Brad Walrond (Part II)

I was wholly unprepared for this Maya who wrote the Blues. I suddenly felt the down home Delta Blues everywhere in her work—the syncopation embedded in her lyrical style and in the movement of her phrases from line to line. Now I was absolutely hooked. I know everyone doesn’t like the Blues. But what man on earth cannot understand a Blues lyric. The power of the Blues is in its simplicity; it latches onto the utterly human lust for something—anything—better when faced with an unrequited ambition.

The courage of Maya’s confession played the front man in her Blues band. The more I read the more I was forced to re-imagine her as she walked up to the microphone all regal and southern like a black church lady. Then she got to telling her testimony and I could feel the honky tonk in the fresh sweat glistening on her brow. Like here in an excerpt from the signature poem from her Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? collection:

Evicted from sleep’s mute palace,/ I wait in silence/

for the bridal croon;/ your legs rubbing insistent/

rhythm against my thighs,/ your breast moaning/

a canticle in my hair./ But the solemn moments,/

unuttering, pass in/ unaccompanied procession./

You whose chanteys hummed/ my life alive, have withdrawn/

your music and lean inaudibly/ on the quiet slope of memory.

I’m not entirely sure I was ready to see the venerable Dr. Maya Angelou this way. But this Maya was a poetic genius. Her steady unrelenting persistence that only the cleanest and most unadorned words follow behind and make up the ground her defiant truth-telling had so desperately prepared made me into a wanton fan. Long before the advent of Oprah Winfrey and well before it was honorable for women of any stripe especially African-American women to speak publicly about the terror and shame induced by rape and incest and prostitution Maya told us her story. Maya’s story was complex. She was not only a victim of white racism but she was made to be a victim at the hands of her own Black uncle and the neglible parenting exhibited by both of her very African-American parents. Continue reading Gifts for Mother Maya by Brad Walrond (Part II)

Gifts for Mother Maya by Brad Walrond (Part I)

Call me dumb! But The Maya Angelou I knew in the 90s was more like a particularly well-spoken television personality. It was more like I had an attachment to the comfort I felt when I heard her voice. I vaguely remember excerpts of her breakout autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. For some truly great artists TV’s penchant for 10-second sound bites and 30-second clips has the odd effect of turning down the bling on their otherwise stellar and legendary career. I knew she was really good friends with Oprah Winfrey and that young black girls especially loved her because of those cutesy self-esteem poems like Still I Rise and Phenomenal Woman. I feel like I’ve heard those poems one time too many at a graduation ceremony somewhere or at a Sunday School children’s recital.

But reading her work—particularly her poetry collections—whatever I thought about Maya Angelou changed. I quickly found out Maya is absolutely a wordsmith of the highest order. I will not say everything she wrote was golden. I will say as a writer she’s worthy of far more street cred than I previously thought. Anyone who believes her literary legacy can be reduced to the stylized limerick of a positive-thinking performance coach either simply has not truly read her work or they have completely misunderstood how precisely and purposefully she deployed her gift.

First Maya Angelou was an activist to the bone. Remember this is the woman both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X personally charged with significant leadership roles in their respective organizations at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

A writer’s best defense is their own words. As soon as I started reading her very first book of poems, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie I kind of had to let go of the deified Sunday morning image I had stuck in my head. She always reminded me of one of the church mothers on the usher board. In her poem A Zorro Man she writes: Continue reading Gifts for Mother Maya by Brad Walrond (Part I)