Archive for the ‘Novelist / Poet’ Category

Marcus Garvey, Publisher, Journalist, Entrepreneur   Leave a comment


Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., ONH (17 August 1887 – 10 June 1940)[1] was a Jamaican publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator who was a staunch proponent of the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements, to which end he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL).[2] He founded the Black Star Line, part of the Back-to-Africa movement, which promoted the return of the African Diaspora to their ancestral lands.

Prior to the twentieth century, leaders such as Prince Hall, Martin Delany, Edward Wilmot Blyden, and Henry Highland Garnet advocated the involvement of the African diaspora in African affairs. Garvey was unique in advancing a Pan-African philosophy to inspire a global mass movement and economic empowerment focusing on Africa known as Garveyism.[2] Promoted by the UNIA as a movement of African Redemption, Garveyism would eventually inspire others, ranging from the Nation of Islam to the Rastafari movement (which proclaims Garvey as a prophet). The intent of the movement was for those of African ancestry to “redeem” Africa and for the European colonial powers to leave it. His essential ideas about Africa were stated in an editorial in the Negro World titled “African Fundamentalism” where he wrote:

Our union must know no clime, boundary, or nationality… to let us hold together under all climes and in every country…[3]

 

  Early years

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. was born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica to Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Sr., a mason, and Sarah Jane Richards, a domestic worker. Of eleven siblings, only Marcus and his sister Indiana survived until maturity.[4] Garvey’s father was known to have a large library, and it was from his father that Marcus gained his love for reading. He also attended the elementary schools in St. Ann’s Bay during his youth.[2][5] Sometime in 1900, Garvey entered into an apprenticeship with his uncle, Alfred Burrowes, who also had an extensive library, of which young Marcus made good use.[6][7]

In 1910 Garvey left Jamaica and began traveling throughout the Central American region. He lived in Costa Rica for several months, where he worked as a time-keeper on a banana plantation. He began work as editor for a daily newspaper titled La Nacionale in 1911. Later that year, he moved to Colón, Panama, where he edited a biweekly newspaper before returning to Jamaica in 1912. After years of working in the Caribbean, Garvey left Jamaica to live in London from 1912 to 1914, where he attended Birkbeck College taking classes in Law and Philosophy, worked for the African Times and Orient Review, published by Dusé Mohamed Ali, and sometimes spoke at Hyde Park‘s Speakers’ Corner. Garvey’s philosophy was influenced by Booker T. Washington, Martin Delany, and Henry McNeal Turner.[8] It is said that Dusé Mohamed Ali influence shaped Garvey’s speeches, and led him to organize the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Jamaica in 1914 (Vincent, 1971). It has been suggested that the UNIA motto, “One God, One Aim, One Destiny”, originated from Dusé Ali’s Islamic influence on Garvey (Rashid, 2002).[9][10] Garvey named the organization the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League.[11] At the National Conference of the Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1921, a Los Angeles delegate named Noah Thompson spoke on the floor complaining on the lack of transparency in the group’s financial accounts. When accounts were prepared Thompson highlighted several sections with what he felt were irregularities.[citation needed]

After corresponding with Booker T. Washington, Garvey arrived in the U.S. on 23 March 1916 aboard the S.S. Tallac to give a lecture tour and to raise funds to establish a school in Jamaica modeled after Washington’s Tuskegee Institute. Garvey visited Tuskegee, and afterward, visited with a number of black leaders. After moving to New York, he found work as a printer by day. He was influenced by Hubert Harrison. At night he would speak on street corners, much like he did in London’s Hyde Park. It was then that Garvey perceived a leadership vacuum among people of African ancestry. On 9 May 1916, he held his first public lecture in New York City at St Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery and undertook a 38-state speaking tour. In May 1917, Garvey and thirteen others formed the first UNIA division outside Jamaica and began advancing ideas to promote social, political, and economic freedom for blacks. On 2 July, the East St. Louis riots broke out. On 8 July, Garvey delivered an address, titled “The Conspiracy of the East St. Louis Riots”, at Lafayette Hall in Harlem. During the speech, he declared the riot was “one of the bloodiest outrages against mankind”. By October, rancor within the UNIA had begun to set in. A split occurred in the Harlem division, with Garvey enlisted to become its leader; although he technically held the same position in Jamaica.[citation needed]

Garvey next set about the business of developing a program to improve the conditions of those of African ancestry “at home and abroad” under UNIA auspices. On 17 August 1918, publication of the widely distributed Negro World newspaper began. Garvey worked as an editor without pay until November 1920. By June 1919 the membership of the organization had grown to over two million. On 27 June 1919, the Black Star Line of Delaware was incorporated by the members of the UNIA, with Garvey as President. By September, it obtained its first ship. Much fanfare surrounded the inspection of the S.S. Yarmouth and its rechristening as the S.S. Frederick Douglass on 14 September 1919. Such a rapid accomplishment garnered attention from many.[citation needed]

Edwin P. Kilroe, Assistant District Attorney in the District Attorney’s office of the County of New York, began an investigation into the activities of the UNIA, but apparently didn’t find any evidence of wrongdoing or mismanagement. After being called to Kilroe’s office numerous times, Garvey wrote an editorial on Kilroe’s activities for the Negro World. Garvey was arrested and indicted for criminal libel in relation to the article, but charges were dismissed after Garvey published a retraction. While in his Harlem office at 56 West 156th Street on 14 October 1919, Garvey received a visit from George Tyler, who told him that Kilroe “had sent him” to get Garvey. Tyler then pulled a .38-caliber revolver and fired four shots, wounding Garvey in the right leg and scalp. Garvey was taken to the hospital and Tyler arrested. The next day, it was let out that Tyler had committed suicide by leaping from the third tier of the Harlem jail as he was being taken to his arraignment. By August 1920, the UNIA claimed four million members. That month, the International Convention of the UNIA was held. With delegates from all over the world in attendance, over 25,000 people filled Madison Square Garden on 1 August 1920 to hear Garvey speak.[citation needed]

Another of Garvey’s ventures was the Negro Factories Corporation. His plan called for creating the infrastructure to manufacture every marketable commodity in every big U.S. industrial center, as well as in Central America, the West Indies, and Africa. Related endeavors included a grocery chain, restaurant, publishing house, and other businesses.

Convinced that blacks should have a permanent homeland in Africa, Garvey sought to develop Liberia. The Liberia program, launched in 1920, was intended to build colleges, universities, industrial plants, and railroads as part of an industrial base from which to operate. However, it was abandoned in the mid-1920s after much opposition from European powers with interests in Liberia. In response to suggestions that he wanted to take all Africans of the Diaspora back to Africa, he wrote, “We do not want all the Negroes in Africa. Some are no good here, and naturally will be no good there.”[12]

 Charge of mail fraud

In a memorandum dated 11 October 1919,[13] J. Edgar Hoover, special assistant to the Attorney General and head of the General Intelligence Division (or “anti-radical division”) [14] of The Bureau of Investigation or BOI (after 1935, the Federal Bureau of Investigation),[15] wrote a memorandum to Special Agent Ridgely regarding Marcus Garvey. In the memo, Hoover wrote that:
Sometime around November 1919 an investigation by the BOI was begun into the activities of Garvey and the UNIA. Toward this end, the BOI hired James Edward Amos, Arthur Lowell Brent, Thomas Leon Jefferson, James Wormley Jones and Earl E. Titus as its first five African-American agents. Although initial efforts by the BOI were to find grounds upon which to deport Garvey as “an undesirable alien”, a charge of mail fraud was brought against Garvey in connection with stock sales of the Black Star Line after the U.S. Post Office and the Attorney General joined the investigation.[17]

The accusation centered on the fact that the corporation had not yet purchased a ship with the name “Phyllis Wheatley“.[clarification needed] Although one was pictured with that name emblazoned on its bow on one of the company’s stock brochures, it had not actually been purchased by the BSL and still had the name “Orion”. The prosecution produced as evidence a single empty envelope which it claimed contained the brochure. During the trial, a man known as Benny Dancy testified that he didn’t remember what was in the envelope, although he regularly received brochures from the Black Star Line. Another witness for the prosecution, Schuyler Cargill, perjured himself after admitting[18] to having been told to mention certain dates in his testimony by Chief Prosecutor Maxwell S. Mattuck. Furthermore, he admitted that he could not remember the names of any coworkers in the office, including the timekeeper who punched employees’ time cards. Ultimately, he acknowledged being told to lie by Postal Inspector F.E. Shea.[19] He said Shea told him to state that he mailed letters containing the purportedly fraudulent brochures. The Black Star Line did own and operate several ships over the course of its history and was in the process of negotiating for the disputed ship at the time the charges were brought. Assistant District Attorney, Leo Healy, who had been, before becoming District Attorney, an attorney with Harris McGill and Co., the sellers of the first ship, the S.S. Yarmouth, to the Black Star Line Inc., was also a key witness for the government during the trial. Of the four Black Star Line officers charged in connection with the enterprise, only Garvey was found guilty of using the mail service to defraud. His supporters called the trial fraudulent. While there were serious accounting irregularities within the Black Star Line and the claims he used to sell Black Star Line stock could be considered misleading, Garvey’s supporters contest that the prosecution was a politically motivated miscarriage of justice.[20]

When the trial ended on 23 June 1923, Garvey had been sentenced to five years in prison. Garvey blamed Jewish jurors and a Jewish federal judge, Julian Mack, for his conviction.[21] He felt they had been biased because of their political objections to his meeting with the acting imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan the year before.[21] In 1928, Garvey told a journalist: “When they wanted to get me they had a Jewish judge try me, and a Jewish prosecutor. I would have been freed but two Jews on the jury held out against me ten hours and succeeded in convicting me, whereupon the Jewish judge gave me the maximum penalty.”[21]

He initially spent three months in the Tombs Jail awaiting approval of bail. While on bail, he continued to maintain his innocence, travel, speak and organize the UNIA. After numerous attempts at appeal were unsuccessful, he was taken into custody and began serving his sentence at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary on 8 February 1925.[22] Two days later, he penned his well known “First Message to the Negroes of the World From Atlanta Prison”, wherein he made his famous proclamation:

Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm, look for me all around you, for, with God’s grace, I shall come and bring with me countless millions of black slaves who have died in America and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for Liberty, Freedom and Life.[23]

Professor Judith Stein has stated, “his politics were on trial.”[24] Garvey’s sentence was eventually commuted by President Calvin Coolidge. Upon his release in November 1927, Garvey was deported via New Orleans to Jamaica, where a large crowd met him at Orrett’s Wharf in Kingston. Though the popularity of the UNIA diminished greatly following Garvey’s expulsion, he nevertheless remained committed to his political ideals.[8]

 Criticism

On 4 October 1916, the Daily Gleaner newspaper in Kingston published a letter written by the Very Rev. Fr. Raphael Morgan, a Jamaican-American priest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, together with over a dozen other like-minded Jamaican-Americans, who wrote in to protest Garvey’s lectures.[25] Garvey’s views on Jamaica, they felt, were damaging to both the reputation of their homeland and its people, enumerating several objections to Garvey’s stated preference for the prejudice of the American whites over that of English whites.[26] Garvey’s response was published a month later, in which he called the letter a conspiratorial fabrication meant to undermine the success and favour he had gained while in Jamaica and in the United States.[27]

While W. E. B. Du Bois felt that the Black Star Line was “original and promising,”[28] he added that “Marcus Garvey is, without doubt, the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America and in the world. He is either a lunatic or a traitor.”[29] Du Bois feared that Garvey’s activities would undermine his efforts toward black rights.[citation needed]

Garvey suspected Du Bois was prejudiced against him because he was a Caribbean native with darker skin. Du Bois once described Marcus Garvey as “a little, fat black man; ugly, but with intelligent eyes and a big head.”[30] Garvey called Du Bois “purely and simply a white man’s nigger” and “a little Dutch, a little French, a little Negro … a mulatto … a monstrosity.” This led to an acrimonious relationship between Garvey and the NAACP.[31] Garvey accused Du Bois of paying conspirators to sabotage the Black Star Line to destroy his reputation.[32]

Garvey recognized the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, and in early 1922, he went to Atlanta, Georgia, for a conference with KKK imperial giant Edward Young Clarke. According to Garvey, “I regard the Klan, the Anglo-Saxon clubs and White American societies, as far as the Negro is concerned, as better friends of the race than all other groups of hypocritical whites put together. I like honesty and fair play. You may call me a Klansman if you will, but, potentially, every white man is a Klansman, as far as the Negro in competition with whites socially, economically and politically is concerned, and there is no use lying.”[33] Leo H. Healy publicly accused Garvey of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan in his testimony during the mail fraud trial.[20]

After Garvey’s entente with the Klan, a number of African-American leaders appealed to U.S. Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty to have Garvey incarcerated.[34]

 Later years

In 1928, Garvey travelled to Geneva to present the Petition of the Negro Race. This petition outlined the worldwide abuse of Africans to the League of Nations. In September 1929, he founded the People’s Political Party (PPP), Jamaica’s first modern political party, which focused on workers’ rights, education, and aid to the poor. Also in 1929, Garvey was elected councilor for the Allman Town Division of the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC). However, he lost his seat because of having to serve a prison sentence for contempt of court. But, in 1930, Garvey was re-elected, unopposed, along with two other PPP candidates.

In April 1931, Garvey launched the Edelweiss Amusement Company. He set the company up to help artists earn their livelihood from their craft. Several Jamaican entertainers — Kidd Harold, Ernest Cupidon, Bim & Bam, and Ranny Williams — went on to become popular after receiving initial exposure that the company gave them. In 1935, Garvey left Jamaica for London. He lived and worked in London until his death in 1940. During these last five years, Garvey remained active and in touch with events in war-torn Ethiopia (then known as Abyssinia) and in the West Indies. In 1937, he wrote the poem Ras Nasibu Of Ogaden[35] in honor of Ethiopian Army Commander (Ras) Nasibu Emmanual. In 1938, he gave evidence before the West Indian Royal Commission on conditions there. Also in 1938 he set up the School of African Philosophy in Toronto to train UNIA leaders. He continued to work on the magazine The Black Man.

In 1937, a group of Garvey’s rivals called the Peace Movement of Ethiopia openly collaborated with the United States Senator from Mississippi, Theodore Bilbo, in the promotion of a repatriation scheme introduced in the US Congress as the Greater Liberia Act. In the Senate, Bilbo was a supporter of Franklin Roosevelt‘s New Deal. Bilbo, an outspoken supporter of segregation and white supremacy and, attracted by the ideas of black separatists like Garvey, proposed an amendment to the federal work-relief bill on 6 June 1938, proposing to deport 12 million black Americans to Liberia at federal expense to relieve unemployment.[36] He took the time to write a book titled Take Your Choice, Separation or Mongrelization, advocating the idea. Garvey praised him in return, saying that Bilbo had “done wonderfully well for the Negro”.[37] During this period, Evangeline Rondon Paterson, the future grandmother of the 55th Governor of New York State, David Paterson, served as his secretary.

 Death

See also: List of premature obituaries

On 10 June 1940, Garvey died after two strokes, putatively after reading a mistaken, and negative, obituary of himself in the Chicago Defender which stated, in part, that Garvey died “broke, alone and unpopular”.[38] Because of travel restrictions during World War II, he was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

Rumours claimed[citation needed] that Garvey was in fact poisoned on a boat on which he was travelling and that was where and how he actually died. In 1964, his remains were exhumed and taken to Jamaica. On 15 November 1964, the government of Jamaica, having proclaimed him Jamaica’s first national hero, re-interred him at a shrine in National Heroes Park.

 Personal life

Marcus Garvey was married twice: to Jamaican Pan-African activist Amy Ashwood (married 1919, divorced 1922), who worked with him in the early years of UNIA; then to the Jamaican journalist and publisher Amy Jacques (married 1922). The latter was mother to his two sons, Marcus III (born 17 September 1930) and Julius.

Posted March 10, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Novelist / Poet

Common, Poet   Leave a comment


Common

Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. (born March 13, 1972), better known by his stage name Common (previously Common Sense), is an American hip-hop artist and actor.

Common debuted in 1992 with the album Can I Borrow a Dollar? and maintained a significant underground following into the late 1990s, after which he gained notable mainstream success through his work with the Soulquarians.[1] His first major-label album, Like Water for Chocolate, received widespread critical acclaim and tremendous commercial success[2] His first Grammy award was in 2003 for Best R&B Song for “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)” with Erykah Badu.[3] Its popularity was matched by May 2005’s Be, which was nominated in the 2006 Grammy Awards for Best Rap Album. Common was awarded his second Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, for “Southside” (featuring Kanye West), from his July 2007 album Finding Forever. His best-of album, Thisisme Then: The Best of Common, was released on November 27, 2007.

Common has also initiated a burgeoning acting career, starring significant roles in such films as Smokin’ Aces, Street Kings, American Gangster, Wanted, Terminator Salvation, Date Night, Just Wright, Happy Feet Two, and New Year’s Eve. He also narrated the award-winning documentary Bouncing Cats, about one man’s efforts to improve the lives of children in Uganda through hip-hop/b-boy culture.[4] Common currently appears in Hell on Wheels, a dramatic television series on AMC that debuted in November 2011.

Early lifeCommon was born Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., on Chicago’s South Side on March 13, 1972.[5] He is the son of educator Dr. Mahalia Ann Hines and former ABA basketball player turned youth counselor Lonnie Lynn. They divorced when he was six years old, resulting in his father’s moving to Denver, Colorado. This left Common to be raised by his mother, but his father remained active in his life and even landed Lonnie Jr. a job with the Chicago Bulls during his teens. While a student at Luther High School South in Chicago, Lynn formed C.D.R., a rap trio that opened for acts that included N.W.A. and Big Daddy Kane.[6]

Common attended Florida A&M University for two years under a scholarship and majored in business administration.[7] After being featured in the Unsigned Hype column of The Source magazine, Lynn debuted in 1992 with the single “Take It EZ”, followed by the album Can I Borrow a Dollar?, under stage name Common Sense.[8]

Music careerWith the 1994 release of Resurrection, Common achieved a much larger degree of critical acclaim, which extended beyond Chicago natives. The album sold relatively well and received a strong positive reaction among alternative and underground hip hop fans at the time. Resurrection was Common’s last album produced almost entirely by his long-time production partner, No I.D., who was also the then-mentor of a young Kanye West.

In 1996, Common appeared on the Red Hot Organization’s compilation CD, America is Dying Slowly, alongside Biz Markie, Wu-Tang Clan, and Fat Joe, among many other prominent hip hop artists. The CD, meant to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic among African American men, was heralded as “a masterpiece” by The Source magazine. He would later also contribute to the Red Hot Organization’s Fela Kuti tribute album, Red Hot and Riot in 2002. He collaborated with Djelimady Tounkara on a remake of Kuti’s track, “Years of Tears and Sorrow”.

Feud with Westside ConnectionThe song “I Used to Love H.E.R.” from Resurrection ignited a feud with West Coast rap group Westside Connection. The lyrics of the song criticized the path hip hop music was taking and was interpreted by some as directing blame towards the popularity of West Coast Gangsta rap. Westside Connection first responded with the 1995 song “Westside Slaughterhouse,” with the lyrics “Used to love H.E.R. mad cause I fucked her”. Westside Connection recorded tracks venting their issues with rival East Coast rappers (see East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry). “Westside Slaughterhouse” also mentioned Common by name, prompting the rapper to respond with the scathing Pete Rock-produced attack song “The Bitch in Yoo”. Common and Westside Connection continued to insult each other back and forth before finally meeting with Louis Farrakhan and setting aside their dispute. Following the popularity of Resurrection, Common Sense was sued by an Orange County-based reggae band with the same name, and was forced to shorten his moniker to simply Common.[8]

One Day It’ll All Make SenseInitially scheduled for an October 1996 release, Common finally released his third album, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, in September 1997. The album took a total of two years to complete and included collaborations with artists such as Lauryn Hill, De La Soul, Q-Tip, Canibus, Black Thought, Chantay Savage, and Questlove – a future fellow member of the Soulquarians outfit. The album, which made a point of eschewing any gangsterism (in response to questions about his musical integrity), was critically acclaimed and led to a major label contract with MCA Records. In addition to releasing One Day, Common’s first child, daughter Omoye Assata Lynn, was born shortly after the release of the album.

As documented by hip hop journalist Raquel Cepeda, in the liner notes for the album, this event had a profound spiritual and mental effect on Common and enabled him to grow musically while becoming more responsible as an artist. She writes:

Rashid found out that he was going to become a daddy in about 8 months. Stunned and confused, Rashid had life altering decisions to make with his girlfriend, Kim Jones. The situation led to the composition of his favourite cut on One Day… that offers a male slant on abortion. “Retrospect for Life”, produced by James Poyser and No I.D. featuring Lauryn Hill (who was due on the same day as Rashid’s girlfriend), is the song that is the driving force behind the project. Rashid listens to “Retrospect for Life” today at the mastering session geeked, as if it were for the first time. He tells me as we listen to L-Boogie wail the chorus, “when I listen to the song now, I think about how precious her (Omoye’s) life is”.
Common addresses family ethics several times on One Day…, and the album sleeve is decorated with old family photos, illustrating the rapper’s childhood, as well a quote from 1 Corinthians 13:11, which summarizes the path to manhood:

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
Soulquarians eraFollowing One Day…, Common signed a major label record deal with MCA Records and relocated from Chicago to New York City in 1999. He began recording almost exclusively with a loose collective of musicians and artists (dubbed the “Soulquarians” by central figure Questlove) throughout 1999, and made a few sporadic guest appearances on The Roots’ Things Fall Apart, and the Rawkus Records compilation, Soundbombing 2.

In 2000, his fourth album, Like Water for Chocolate, was released to mass critical acclaim. Executive produced by Questlove and featuring significant contributions by J Dilla, (who helmed many tracks except – “Cold Blooded”, “Geto Heaven Part II”, “A Song For Assata”, “Pop’s Rap Part 3…All My Children” & the DJ Premier-produced track “The 6th Sense”), Like Water for Chocolate transpired to be a considerable commercial breakthrough for Common, earning the rapper his first gold record, and greatly expanding his fanbase among critics and listeners alike.

With both artists hailing from the Great Lakes region of the United States (Chicago and Detroit, prospectively), Common and J Dilla established their chemistry early on. Both became members of the Soulquarians collective, and collaborated on numerous projects together, even placing one song, “Thelonius”, on both the Slum Village album Fantastic, Vol. 2, and Common’s Like Water for Chocolate. As Dilla’s health began to decline from the effects of Lupus Nephritis, he relocated to Los Angeles, and asked Common to make the move with him as a roommate (Dilla would later lose his battle with the rare disease).[9]

This album saw Common exploring themes (musically and lyrically), which were uncommon for a Hip hop record, as he does on the song “Time Travelin’ (A Tribute To Fela)”; a homage to Nigerian music legend, and political activist Fela Kuti. The most popular single from the album “The Light” was nominated for a Grammy Award.

GOOD Music era “Go!” excerpt

From the album Be

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Problems listening to this file? See media help.

In early 2004, Common made an appearance on fellow Chicagoan Kanye West’s multi-platinum debut album, The College Dropout (on the song “Get Em High”), and announced his signing to West’s then-newfound label GOOD Music. West had been a longtime fan of Common and the two even participated in a friendly on-air MC battle, where West took jabs at his lyrical idol for “going soft” and wearing crochet pants (as he does for his appearance in the video for the Mary J. Blige song “Dance for Me”). The pair worked together on Common’s next album, Be, almost entirely produced by Kanye West, with some help from Common’s longtime collaborator the late James Yancey (J Dilla) – also a favorite of West. The album was released in May 2005, and performed very well, boosted by Kanye’s involvement and the singles “The Corner”, and “Go”. Be earned Common the second gold record of his career, with sales topping out at around 800,000 copies. The Source magazine gave it a near perfect 4.5 mic rating, XXL magazine gave it their highest rating of “XXL”, and AllHipHop gave the album 4 stars. The album was also nominated for four Grammy Awards in 2006.

Following the release of Be in 2005, several mixed-race artists from the UK hip-hop scene took exception to Common’s comments about interracial relationships on the song “Real People.” Yungun, Doc Brown and Rising Son recorded a track over an instrumental version of “The Corner” named “Dear Common (The Corner Dub).” Common states that he has heard of the track but never actually taken the time to listen to it, and has not retaliated in song.[10]

2008 – present
Performing at Store Vega, Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2007.Common’s seventh LP titled Finding Forever was released on July 31, 2007. For this album, he continued his work with Kanye West, as well as other producers such as will.i.am, Devo Springsteen, Derrick Hodge, and Karriem Riggins, as well as the only J Dilla-produced track, “So Far To Go”. The album features guest spots from artists such as Dwele, Bilal, D’Angelo, and UK pop starlet Lily Allen. The first single from the album was “The People” b/w “The Game”. West has already predicted that Finding Forever will win the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Rap Album.[11] On July 31, 2007, Common performed a free concert in Santa Monica, California on the 3rd Street Promenade to promote the release of Finding Forever. Common explained to the audience that the title “Finding Forever” represented his quest to find an eternal place in hip-hop and also his wishes to be an artist for the rest of his life. The album debuted at #1 on the national Billboard 200 charts.

In an August 2007 interview with XXL, rapper Q-Tip of the group A Tribe Called Quest stated that he and Common were forming a group called The Standard. While the two were meant to hit the studio to record a Q-Tip-produced album, possibly with contributions from Kanye West, Common put out Universal Mind Control instead and has already planned a next album, The Dreamer, The Believer, for late 2011.[12]

Common at 2009 Obama Home States Inaugural Ball on January 20, 2009Common was instrumental in bridging the trans-Atlantic gap by signing UK’s Mr Wong and J2K to Kanye West’s Getting Out Our Dreams recording outfit. Common met the pair during his tour in the UK earlier on in the year. It is speculated that the deal is not only to bring the UK and US hip hop genres together but that to rival Syco Music’s cross-Atlantic success with Leona Lewis. He also has a deal with Zune mp3 players. In 2008 Common made an estimated 12 million dollars, making him equal in earnings to Eminem and Akon, tied for the 13th highest grossing Hip-Hop artist.[citation needed]

The eighth album from Chicago hip-hop artist Common was originally scheduled to be released on June 24, 2008 under the name Invincible Summer, but he announced at a Temple University concert that he would change it to Universal Mind Control.[13] The release date was pushed back to September 30, 2008 due to Common filming Wanted. The release date was set for November 11, 2008, but again it was pushed back to December 9, 2008.

The album’s first single, titled “Universal Mind Control”, was officially released on July 1, 2008 via the US iTunes Store as part of the Announcement EP (sold as “Universal Mind Control-EP” in the UK). The song features Pharrell, who also produced the track. The Announcement EP included an additional track track titled “Announcement” featuring its producer, Pharrell. The video for “Universal Mind Control” was filmed in September by director Hype Williams.

Producer No I.D. has stated that he and Kanye West will be producing Common’s next album The Dreamer The Believer, due sometime in 2011.[14] In July 2011, it was announced that No I.D. will be the album’s sole producer.[15] Common made an appearance on The Jonas Brothers’ most recent album, Lines, Vines and Trying Times as a guest rapper for the group’s new song, “Don’t Charge Me for the Crime.”[16]

On July 6, 2011, Common released his first single, titled “Ghetto Dreams”, from his next album. A second single,”Blue Sky”, was released on October 4, 2011. On December 20th, 2011, Common released his ninth solo album titled The Dreamer, The Believer.

Other workActingIn 2003, Common appeared on the American UPN sitcom Girlfriends. In the episode “Take This Poem and Call Me In The Morning”, he appeared as Omar, a slam poet who competes with fellow poet Sivad (played by Saul Williams) for the affection of Lynn Searcy (played by Persia White). He also had a cameo appearance on an episode of UPN’s One on One, where he played a drama class instructor named Darius. He also made an appearance on the ABC show “Scrubs”. In 2007, Common appeared with Ryan Reynolds, Jeremy Piven, and Alicia Keys in the crime film Smokin’ Aces. He made his big screen debut as villainous Mob enforcer Sir Ivy. He appeared alongside Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, The RZA and T.I. in the 2007 crime thriller American Gangster. On January 20, 2007, one week before the opening of Smokin Aces, he appeared in a Saturday Night Live sketch as himself. The show’s host was Piven, his Aces co-star. In 2008, he starred in the film adaptation of the comic book Wanted alongside Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie. Common also appeared in the movie Street Kings alongside Keanu Reeves, Hugh Laurie, The Game, and Forest Whitaker. Common also starred in the 2010 movie Just Wright as a basketball player that falls in love with his trainer Queen Latifah.[17] He also appeared in the 2009 film Terminator Salvation as John Connor’s lieutenant Barnes.[18] He starred as a corrupt cop in the 2010 comedy Date Night with Steve Carell and Tina Fey. His most recent role is in AMC’s 2011 “Hell on Wheels” as Elam Ferguson, a recently freed slave trying to find his place in the world.[19]

Modeling and clothingIn 2006, Common was a model for photos of The Gap’s fall season collection, appearing on posters in stores. Later that year, he performed in The Gap’s “Holiday In Your Hood” themed Peace Love Gap. In February 2007, Common signed a deal with New Era to promote their new line of Layers fitted caps. Common also stars in a television commercial for the 2008 Lincoln Navigator. He appears in NBA 2K8 in NBA Blacktop mode. In the fall of 2008, Common appeared in an ad for Microsoft’s Zune, comparing his new song, “Universal Mind Control”, to,”Planet Rock”, a song from hip hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa. As well as that he featured in the Diesel campaign for a new fragrance called “Only The Brave”. His song “Be (intro)” is featured in a commercial for BlackBerry as of January 2011.

In December 2008, Common launched a new clothing line in partnership with Microsoft titled “Softwear”, based on 1980s computing.

WritingWhite House controversyCommon was invited by First Lady Michelle Obama to appear at a poetry reading on May 11, 2011 at the White House.[20] This caused furor with the New Jersey State Police and their union,[21] who disagreed with his lyrical content. The president of the New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association voiced concern to the White House. They cite the song “A Song For Assata” about a member of the Black Liberation Army and step-aunt of deceased rapper Tupac Shakur named Assata Shakur, previously known as Joanne Chesimard,[22] who was convicted in 1977 of the first degree murder of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster.

Common and his mother, Dr. Mahalia Ann Hines, at a September 13, 2011 signing for his memoir at the Barnes & Noble in Tribeca, Manhattan.At another poetry reading, Common said, “flyers say ‘free Mumia’ on my freezer,” a reference to Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was controversially convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. Common stated, “The one thing that shouldn’t be questioned is my support for the police officers and troops that protect us every day”.

Jay Carney, the White House Secretary, spoke for President Obama on the matter by saying the president does not support, but actually opposes, some of the kind of words and lyrics that have been written by Common and others.[23] Even though the president does not support the lyrics in question, he believed that some reports were distorting what Mr. Lynn stands for more broadly. Common gave a single line response to the entire controversy: “I guess Sarah Palin and Fox News doesn’t like me.”[23]

Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show questioned Fox News’ coverage of the controversy, saying that they “took the time to ignore Common’s entire body of work, save for one poem he wrote in 2007 that they appear to misunderstand.” Stewart also pointed out that in 2002, George W. Bush honored Johnny Cash, whose songs contain violent lyrics. Stewart further pointed out that Fox News itself offered positive coverage of Common’s career in 2010, and that Sean Hannity, who criticized Common’s White House invitation, is a friend of musician Ted Nugent, who in clips played on The Daily Show, used violent rhetoric in comments he made about President Obama and Hillary Clinton.[24] Common later discussed the matter with Stewart during a September 14, 2011 appearance on the program.[25]

2011 bookIn September 2011, Common published his memoir, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, through Atria Books. As the book details how his close relationship with his mother influenced his life, it is partially narrated by her.[26]

ActivismCommon used to be vegan, but is now a pescetarian.[27] In addition, he is a supporter of animal rights and PETA. He appeared in a print advertisement for PETA titled “Think Before You Eat”.[28]

Common is also part of the “Knowing Is Beautiful” movement, which supports HIV/AIDS awareness.[28] He is featured in the video for “Yes We Can”, a song in support of the candidacy of Barack Obama, which made its debut on the internet on February 2, 2008. Common has pledged to stop using anti-gay lyrics in his music.[29][30]

Common is the founder of the Common Ground Foundation,[31] a non-profit that seeks to empower underprivileged youth to be strong citizens and citizens of the world. The foundation includes programs dedicated to leadership development & empowerment, educational development, creative expression, as well as a book club.

Personal lifeCommon has a daughter, Omoye Assata Lynn (born 1997).[32] Common is a Christian and has been a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago led by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright since his childhood.[33] Following the controversy over one of Wright’s sermons, Common criticized the American news media’s coverage of the incident as having “an agenda.”[33] Common played the role of Alicia Keys’s boyfriend in the music video “Like You’ll Never See Me Again.” He dated professional tennis player Serena Williams and neo-soul singer Erykah Badu.[34]

Posted February 25, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Novelist / Poet

Maya Angelous   Leave a comment


Maya Angelous

Maya Angelou born Marguerite Ann Johnson; April 4, 1928) is an American author and poet who has been called “America’s most visible black female autobiographer” by scholar Joanne M. Braxton. She is best known for her series of six autobiographical volumes, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first and most highly acclaimed, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her first seventeen years. It brought her international recognition, and was nominated for a National Book Award. She has been awarded over 30 honorary degrees and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her 1971 volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie.[5]. In 2011, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom the highest civilian honour in the U.S.

Angelou was a member of the Harlem Writers Guild in the late 1950s, was active in the Civil Rights movement, and served as Northern Coordinator of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Since 1991, she has taught at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where she holds the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies. Since the 1990s she has made around eighty appearances a year on the lecture circuit. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. In 1995, she was recognized for having the longest-running record (two years) on The New York Times Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller List.

With the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou was heralded as a new kind of memoirist, one of the first African American women who was able to publicly discuss her personal life. She is highly respected as a spokesperson for Black people and women. Angelou’s work is often characterized as autobiographical fiction.[6] She has, however, made a deliberate attempt to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre. Her books, centered on themes such as identity, family, and racism, are often used as set texts in schools and universities internationally. Some of her more controversial work has been challenged or banned in U.S. schools and library.

Early years
Marguerite Johnson was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928, the second child of Bailey Johnson, a navy dietitian, and Vivian (Baxter) Johnson, a nurse and card dealer. Angelou’s older brother, Bailey Jr., nicknamed Marguerite “Maya”, shortened from “my-a-sister”. The details of Angelou’s life described in her six autobiographies and in numerous interviews, speeches, and articles tend to be inconsistent. Her biographer, Mary Jane Lupton, has explained that when Angelou has spoken about her life, she has done so eloquently but informally and “with no time chart in front of her”.

And Angelou’s life has certainly been a full one: from the hardscrabble Depression era South to pimp, prostitute, supper-club chanteuse, performer in Porgy and Bess, coordinator for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, journalist in Egypt and Ghana in the heady days of decolonization, comrade of Malcolm X, eyewitness to the Watts riots. She knew King and Malcolm, Billie Holiday and Abbey Lincoln.–Reviewer John McWhorter, The New Republic

Evidence suggests that Angelou is partially descended from the Mende people of West Africa.[note 1] A 2008 PBS documentary found that Angelou’s maternal great-grandmother, Mary Lee, who had been emancipated after the Civil War, became pregnant by her former white owner, John Savin. Savin forced Lee to sign a false statement accusing another man of being the father of her child. After indicting Savin for forcing Lee to commit perjury, and despite discovering that Savin was the father, a grand jury found him not guilty. Lee was sent to the Clinton County poorhouse in Missouri with her daughter, Marguerite Baxter, who became Angelou’s grandmother. Angelou described Lee as “that poor little Black girl, physically and mentally bruised.”[12]

The first 17 years of Angelou’s life are documented in her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. When Angelou was three, and her brother four, their parents’ “calamitous marriage”[13] ended. Their father sent them to Stamps, Arkansas alone by train to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson. In what editor Claudia Johnson called “an astonishing exception to the harsh economics of African Americans of the time, Angelou’s grandmother prospered financially during the Great Depression and World War II because the general store she owned sold needed basic commodities and because “she made wise and honest investments”

Four years later, the children’s father “came to Stamps without warning” and returned them to their mother’s care in St. Louis. At age eight, while living with her mother, Angelou was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. She confessed it to her brother, who told the rest of their family. Freeman was found guilty, but was jailed for one day. Four days after his release, he was killed, probably by Angelou’s uncles. Angelou became mute for almost five years, believing, as she has stated, “I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone… According to Angelou’s biographers it was during this period of silence when Angelou developed her extraordinary memory, her love for books and literature, and her ability to listen and observe the world around her.

Shortly after Freeman’s murder, Angelou and her brother were sent back to their grandmother once again. Angelou credits a teacher and friend of her family, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, with helping her speak again. Flowers introduced her to authors such as Dickens, Shakespeare, Poe, Douglas Johnson, and James Weldon Johnson, authors that would affect her life and career as well as Black female artists like Frances Harper, Anne Spencer, and Jessie Fauset.When Angelou was 14, she and her brother returned to live with her mother in Oakland, California. During World War II, she attended George Washington High School while studying dance and drama on a scholarship at the California Labor School. Before graduating, she worked as the first Black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.Three weeks after completing school, she gave birth to her son, Clyde, who also became a poet. At the end of Angelou’s third autobiography, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, her son changed his name to “Guy Johnson”.

Angelou’s second autobiography, Gather Together in My Name, recounts her life from age 17 to 19 and “depicts a single mother’s slide down the social ladder into poverty and crime. Angelou worked as “the front woman/business manager for prostitutes, restaurant cook, and prostitute. She moved through a series of relationships, occupations, and cities as she attempted to raise her son without job training or advanced education.

Adulthood and early career: 1951—1961Angelou has been married three times or more (something she has never clarified, “for fear of sounding frivolous”). In her third autobiography, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, Angelou describes her three-year marriage to Greek electrician, former sailor, and aspiring musician Enistasious (Tosh) Angelos in 1951, despite the condemnation of interracial relationships at the time and the disapproval of her mother. She took modern dances classes during this time, and met dancers and choreographers Alvin Ailey and Ruth Beckford. Angelou and Ailey formed a dance team, calling themselves “Al and Rita”, and performed Modern Dance at fraternal Black organizations throughout San Francisco, but never became successful. She studied African dance with Trinidadian dancer Pearl Primus, and her new husband and son moved with her to New York City, but they returned to San Francisco a year later.

After Angelou’s marriage ended, she danced professionally in clubs around San Francisco, including the nightclub The Purple Onion, where she sang and danced calypso music. Up to that point she went by the name of “Marguerite Johnson”, or “Rita”, but changed her professional name to, at the strong suggestion of her managers and supporters at The Purple Onion, “Maya Angelou”, a “distinctive name” that set her apart and captured the feel of her Calypso dance performances. During 1954 and 1955 Angelou toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. She began her practice of trying to learn the language of every country she visited, and in a few years she gained proficiency in several languages. In 1957, riding on the popularity of calypso, Angelou recorded her first album, Miss Calypso, which was reissued as a CD in 1996. She appeared in an off-Broadway review that inspired the film Calypso Heat Wave, in which Angelou sang and performed her own compositions.

As Angelou described in her fourth autobiography, The Heart of a Woman, she met novelist James O. Killens in 1959, and at his urging, moved to New York to concentrate on her writing career. She joined the Harlem Writers Guild, where she met several major African American authors, including John Henrik Clarke, Rosa Guy, Paule Marshall, and Julian Mayfield, and was published for the first time.[38] After meeting and hearing civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in 1960, she and Killens organized “the legendary”[39] Cabaret for Freedom to benefit the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and was named SCLC’s Northern Coordinator. According to Hagen, her contributions to civil rights as a fundraiser and SCLC organizer were successful and “eminently effective”.[40] Angelou began her pro-Castro and anti-apartheid activism during this time.[41]

Africa to Caged Bird: 1961—1969In 1961, Angelou met South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make; they never officially married. Also in 1961, she performed in Jean Genet’s The Blacks, along with Abbey Lincoln, Roscoe Lee Brown, James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett, Godfrey Cambridge, and Cicely Tyson. She and Guy moved to Cairo later that year with Make, where Angelou worked as an associate editor at the weekly English-language newspaper The Arab Observer. In 1962 her relationship with Make ended, and she and Guy moved to Accra, Ghana, he to attend college, where he was seriously injured in an automobile accident. Angelou remained in Accra for his recovery and ended up staying there until 1965, later relating her experiences as an African American residing in Ghana in her fifth autobiography, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. She became an administrator at the University of Ghana, and was active in the African-American expatriate community] She was a feature editor for The African Review, a freelance writer for the Ghanaian Times, wrote and broadcast for Radio Ghana, and worked and performed for Ghana’s National Theatre. She performed in a revival of The Blacks in Geneva and Berlin.

Most of Angelu’s time in Africa was spent in Accra, Ghana.In Accra, she became close friends with Malcolm X during his visit in the early 1960s.[note 5] As she wrote about in her sixth and final autobiography A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002), Angelou returned to the U.S. to help him build a new civil rights organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity in 1965; he was assassinated shortly afterward. Devastated and adrift, she joined her brother in Hawaii, where she resumed her singing career, and then moved back to Los Angeles to focus on her writing career. She worked as a market researcher in Watts and witnessed the riots in the summer of 1965. She acted in and wrote plays, and returned to New York in 1967. She met her life-long friend Rosa Guy and renewed her friendship with James Baldwin, whom she met in Paris in the 1950s and called “my brother”, during this time. Her friend Jerry Purcell provided Angelou with a stipend to support her writing.

In 1968, King asked her to organize a march. She agreed, but “postpones again”, and in what Angelou’s biographers call “a macabre twist of fate”, he was assassinated on her 40th birthday (April 4).[note 6] Devastated again, she was encouraged out of her depression by Baldwin. As her biographers state, “If 1968 was a year of great pain, loss, and sadness, it was also the year when America first witnessed the breadth and depth of Maya Angelou’s spirit and creative genius”. Despite almost no experience, she wrote, produced, and narrated “Blacks, Blues, Black!”, a ten-part series of documentaries which dealt with the connection between blues music and Black Americans’ African heritage, as well as what Angelou called the “Africanisms still current in the U.S.” for the National Educational Television, the precursor of PBS. Also in 1968, inspired by a dinner party she attended with her friend James Baldwin, cartoonist Jules Feiffer, and Feiffer’s wife Judy, and challenged by Random House editor Robert Loomis, she wrote her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969, which brought her international recognition and acclaim.

Later careerAngelou’s Georgia, Georgia, produced by a Swedish film company and filmed in Sweden, the first screenplay written by a Black woman, was released in 1972. She also wrote the film’s soundtrack, despite having very little additional input in the filming of the movie. Angelou married Welsh carpenter and ex-husband of Germaine Greer, Paul du Feu, in San Francisco in 1973. In the next ten years, as her biographers stated, “She had accomplished more than many artists hope to achieve in a lifetime”.[60] She worked as a composer, writing for singer Roberta Flack and composing movie scores. She wrote articles, short stories, TV scripts and documentaries, autobiographies and poetry, produced plays, and was named visiting professors of several colleges and universities. She was “a reluctant actor”, and was nominated for a Tony Award in 1973 for her role in Look Away. In 1977 Angelou appeared in a supporting role in the television mini-series Roots. She began being awarded with hundreds of awards and honorary degrees from colleges and universities from all over the world.

In all the days of my life, I never met a woman who was more completely herself than Maya Angelou. She fully inhabits and owns every space of herself with no pretense and no false modesty. She has a certain way of being in this world. When you walk into a room and she’s there, you know it. She is fully aware of what it means to be human, and share that humanity with others. Being around her makes you want to do the same, be more fully your own self.–Oprah Winfrey, 2008

In the late ’70s, Angelou met Oprah Winfrey when Winfrey was a TV anchor in Baltimore, Maryland; Angelou would later become Winfrey’s close friend and mentor.[note 7] In 1981, Angelou and du Feu divorced. Her attempts at producing and directing films were frustrated throughout the 80s. She returned to the southern United States in 1981, where she accepted the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she taught a variety of subjects that reflected her interests, including philosophy, ethics, theology, science, theater, and writing.[65] Also in 1981, the mother of her son Guy’s child disappeared with him; it took eight years to find Angelou’s grandson.[note 8]

In 1993, Antelou recited her poem On the Pulse of Morning at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, becoming the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. Her recitation resulted in more fame and recognition for her previous works, and broadened her appeal “across racial, economic, and educational boundaries”.[69] The recording of the poem was awarded a Grammy Award.[70] In June 1995, she delivered what Richard Long called her “second ‘public’ poem”,[71] entitled “A Brave and Startling Truth”, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. Angelou finally achieved her goal of directing a feature film in 1996, Down in the Delta, which featured actors such as Alfre Woodard and Wesley Snipes.

Angelou’s mother Vivian Baxter and brother Bailey Johnson, Jr., both of whom were important figures in her life and her books, died; her mother in 1991 and her brother in 2000 after a series of strokes. Since the 1990s, Angelou has actively participated in the lecture circuit[68] in a customized tour bus, something she continued into her eighties. In 2000, she created a successful collection of products for Hallmark, including greeting cards and decorative household items. Over thirty years after Angelou began writing her life story, Angelou completed the sixth and final autobiography in her series of six, A Song Flung Up to Heaven, in 2002.

Angelou campaigned for Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party in the 2008 presidential primaries. When Clinton’s campaign ended, Angelou put her support behind Senator Barack Obama, who won the election and became the first African American president of the United States. She stated, “We are growing up beyond the idiocies of racism and sexism”.[80] In late 2010, Angelou donated her personal papers and career memorabilia to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.[81] They consisted of over 340 boxes of documents that featured her handwritten notes on yellow legal pads for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a 1982 telegram from Coretta Scott King, fan mail, and personal and professional correspondence from colleagues such as Robert Loomis.

Angelou’s workMain article: List of Maya Angelou works
Although Angelou wrote her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, without the intention of writing a series,[83] she went on to write five additional volumes. The volumes “stretch over time and place”, from Arkansas to Africa and back to the U.S., and take place from the beginnings of World War II to King’s assassination. Critics have tended to judge Angelou’s subsequent autobiographies “in light of the first”,[83] with Caged Bird receiving the highest praise. Angelou has written collections of essays, including Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993) and Even the Stars Look Lonesome (1997), which writer Hilton Als called her “wisdom books” and “homilies strung together with autobiographical texts”. Angelou has used the same editor throughout her writing career, Robert Loomis, an executive editor at Random House, who retired in 2011[85] and has been called “one of publishing’s hall of fame editors. Angelou has said regarding Loomis: “We have a relationship that’s kind of famous among publishers”.

All my work, my life, everything I do is about survival, not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated”. –Maya Angelou

Angelou’s long and extensive career also includes poetry, plays, screenplays for television and film, directing, acting, and public speaking. She is a prolific writer of poetry; her volume Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie (1971) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize,[5] and she was chosen by President Bill Clinton to recite her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” during his inauguration in 1993.[68]

Angelou’s successful acting career has included roles in numerous plays, films, and television programs, including her appearance in the television mini-series Roots in 1977. Her screenplay,Georgia, Georgia (1972), was the first original script by a Black woman to be produced and she was the first African American woman to direct a major motion picture, Down in the Delta, in 1998.[72] Since the 1990s, Angelou has actively participated in the lecture circuit, something she continued into her eighties.

Reception and legacyInfluence
President Barack Obama presenting Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2011When I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1969, Angelou was hailed as a new kind of memoirist, one of the first African American women who was able to publicly discuss her personal life. Up to that point, black female writers were marginalized to the point that they were unable to present themselves as central characters. Scholar John McWhorter agreed, seeing Angelou’s works, which he called “tracts”, as “apologetic writing” more than autobiographical. He placed Angelou in the tradition of African American literature as a defense of Black culture, which he called “a literary manifestation of the imperative that reigned in the black scholarship of the period”.Writer Julian Mayfield, who called Caged Bird “a work of art that eludes description”,[39] has insisted that Angelou’s autobiographies set a precedent not only for other black women writers, but for the genre of autobiography as a whole.[39] Through the writing of her autobiography, Angelou had become recognized and highly respected as a spokesperson for blacks and women. It made her “without a doubt, … America’s most visible black woman autobiographer”, and “a major autobiographical voice of the time”.[90] As writer Gary Younge has said, “Probably more than almost any other writer alive, Angelou’s life literally is her work”.[8]

Author Hilton Als has insisted that although Caged Bird was an important contribution to the increase of black feminist writings in the 1970s, he attributed its success less to its originality than with “its resonance in the prevailing Zeitgeist”, or the time in which it was written, at the end of the American Civil Rights movement. Als also insisted that Angelou’s writings, more interested in self-revelation than in politics or feminism, has freed many other female writers to “open themselves up without shame to the eyes of the world”. Angelou biographer Joanne M. Braxton has insisted that Caged Bird was “perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing” autobiography written by an African-American woman in its era.

Critical receptionReviewer Elsie B. Washington, most likely due to President Clinton’s choice of Angelou to recite her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at his 1993 inauguration, has called Angelou “the black woman’s poet laureate” Sales of the paperback version of her books and poetry rose by 300–600% the week after Angelou’s recitation. Bantam Books had to reprint 400,000 copies of all her books to keep up with the demand. Random House, which published Angelou’s hardcover books and published the poem later that year, reported that they sold more of her books in January 1993 than they did in all of 1992, accounting for a 1200% increase. Angelou has famously said, in response to criticism regarding using the details of her life in her work, “I agree with Balzac and 19th-century writers, black and white, who say, ‘I write for money'”.

Angelou’s books, especially I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, have been criticized by many parents, causing their removal from school curricula and library shelves. According to the National Coalition Against Censorship, parents and schools have objected to Caged Bird’s depictions of lesbianism, premarital cohabitation, pornography, and violence.[93] Some have been critical of the book’s sexually explicit scenes, use of language, and irreverent religious depictions. Caged Bird appeared third on the American Library Association (ALA) list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000,[95] sixth on the ALA’s 2000-2009 list,[96] and one of the ten books most frequently banned from high school and junior high school libraries and classrooms.

Uses in educationAngelou’s autobiographies have been used in narrative and multicultural approaches in teacher education. Jocelyn A. Glazier, a professor at George Washington University, has trained teachers how to “talk about race” in their classrooms with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Gather Together in My Name. According to Glazier, Angelou’s use of understatement, self-mockery, humor, and irony, have led readers of Angelou’s autobiographies unsure of what she “left out” and how they should respond to the events Angelou describes. Angelou’s depictions of her experiences of racism has forced white readers to explore their feelings about race and their own “privileged status”. Glazier found that although critics have focused on where Angelou fits within the genre of African-American autobiography and on her literary techniques, readers have tended to react to her storytelling with “surprise, particularly when [they] enter the text with certain expectations about the genre of autobiography”.

Educator Daniel Challener, in his 1997 book, Stories of Resilience in Childhood, analyzed the events in Caged Bird to illustrate resiliency in children. Challener insisted that Angelou’s book has provided a “useful framework” for exploring the obstacles many children like have Maya faced and how communities have helped children succeed as Angelou did.[98] Psychologist Chris Boyatzis has reported using Caged Bird to supplement scientific theory and research in the instruction of child development topics such as the development of self-concept and self-esteem, ego resilience, industry versus inferiority, effects of abuse, parenting styles, sibling and friendship relations, gender issues, cognitive development, puberty, and identity formation in adolescence. He found the book a “highly effective” tool for providing real-life examples of these psychological concepts.

Style and genreAngelou’s use of fiction-writing techniques such as dialogue, characterization, and development of theme, setting, plot, and language has often resulted in the placement of her books into the genre of autobiographical fiction, but Angelou has characterized them as autobiographies. As feminist scholar Maria Lauret has stated, Angelou has made a deliberate attempt in her books to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre.[101] Scholar Mary Jane Lupton has insisted that all of Angelou’s autobiographies conform to the genre’s standard structure: they are written by a single author, they are chronological, and they contain elements of character, technique, and theme. Angelou has also recognized that there are fictional aspects to her books. Lupton has stated that Angelou has tended to “diverge from the conventional notion of autobiography as truth”,[102] which has paralleled the conventions of much of African American autobiography written during the abolitionist period of U.S. history, when as both Lupton and African American scholar Crispin Sartwell put it, the truth was censored out of the need for self-protection.Scholar Lyman B. Hagen places Angelou in the long tradition of African American autobiography, but insists that Angelou has created a unique interpretation of the autobiographical form.

The challenge for much of the history of African American literature was that its authors have had to confirm its status as literature before they could accomplish their political goals, which was why Angelou’s editor Robert Loomis was able to dare her into writing Caged Bird by challenging her to write an autobiography that could be considered “high art”. Angelou has acknowledged that she has followed the slave narrative tradition of “speaking in the first-person singular talking about the first-person plural, always saying I meaning ‘we'”.[83] Scholar John McWhorter called Angelou’s books “tracts” that defended African-American culture and fought against negative stereotypes. According to McWhorter, Angelou structured her books, which to him seemed to be written more for children than for adults, to support her defense of Black culture. McWhorter saw Angelou as she depicted herself in her autobiographies “as a kind of stand-in figure for the Black American in Troubled Times”.[89] Although McWhorter saw Angelou’s works as dated, he recognized that “she has helped to pave the way for contemporary black writers who are able to enjoy the luxury of being merely individuals, no longer representatives of the race, only themselves.[106] Scholar Lynn Z. Bloom has compared Angelou’s works to the writings of Frederick Douglass, stating that both fulfilled the same purpose: to describe Black culture and to interpret it for her wider, white audience.

According to scholar Sondra O’Neale, whereas Angelou’s poetry could be placed within the African American oral tradition, her prose “follows classic technique in nonpoetic Western forms”.[108] O’Neale stated that although Angelou avoided a “monolithic Black language”,[109] she accomplished, through direct dialogue, of what O’Neale called a “more expected ghetto expressiveness”.[109] McWhorter, however, found both the language Angelou used in her autobiographies and the people she depicted unrealistic, resulting in a separation between her and her audience. As McWhorter stated, “I have never read autobiographical writing where I had such a hard time summoning a sense of how the subject talks, or a sense of who the subject really is”.[110] McWhorter asserted, for example, that Angelou’s depiction of key figures like herself, her son Guy, and mother Vivian did not speak as one would expect, and that their speech was “cleaned up”.[111] Guy, for example, represented the young Black male, while Vivian represented the idealized mother figure. The stiff language Angelou used, both in her text and in the language of her subjects, was intended to prove that Blacks were able to competently use standard English.

McWhorter recognized, however, that much of the reason for Angelou’s style was the “apologetic” nature of her writing.[89] When Angelou wrote Caged Bird at the end of the 1960s, one of the necessary and accepted features of literature at the time was “organic unity”, and one of her goals was to create a book that satisfied that criteria.[105] The events in her books were episodic and crafted like a series of short stories, but their arrangements did not follow a strict chronology. Instead, they were placed to emphasize the themes of her books.[105] English literature scholar Valerie Sayers has asserted that “Angelou’s poetry and prose are similar”. They both relied on her “direct voice”, which alternated steady rhythms with syncopated patterns and used similes and metaphors (i.e., the caged bird).[113] According to Hagen, Angelou’s works have been influenced by both conventional literary and the oral traditions of the African American community. For example, she referenced over 100 literary characters throughout her books and poetry.[114] In addition, she used the elements of blues music, including the act of testimony when speaking of one’s life and struggles, ironic understatement, and the use of natural metaphors, rhythms, and intonations.[115] Angelou, instead of depending upon plot, used personal and historical events to shape her books.

I make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music.

Maya Angelou, 1999[117]

“I also wear a hat or a very tightly pulled head tie when I write. I suppose I hope by doing that I will keep my brains from seeping out of my scalp and running in great gray blobs down my neck, into my ears, and over my face”.

Maya Angelou, 1986

“Nothing so frightens me as writing, but nothing so satisfies me. It’s like a swimmer in the [English] Channel: you face the stingrays and waves and cold and grease, and finally you reach the other shore, and you put your foot on the ground—Aaaahhhh!”—Maya Angelou, 1989

Beginning with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou has used the same “writing ritual” for many years. She would wake early in the morning and check into a hotel room, where the staff was instructed to remove any pictures from the walls. She would write on legal pads while lying on the bed, with only a bottle of sherry, a deck of cards to play solitaire, Roget’s Thesaurus, and the Bible, and would leave by the early afternoon. She would average 10–12 pages of written material a day, which she edited down to three or four pages in the evening. Angelou went through this process to “enchant” herself, and as she has said in a 1989 interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, “relive the agony, the anguish, the Sturm und Drang.” She placed herself back in the time she is writing about, even traumatic experiences like her rape in Caged Bird, in order to “tell the human truth” about her life. Angelou has stated that she played cards in order to get to that place of enchantment, in order to access her memories more effectively. She has stated, “It may take an hour to get into it, but once I’m in it—ha! It’s so delicious!” She did not find the process cathartic; rather, she has found relief in “telling the truth”.

Themes in Angelou’s autobiographiesRacismBeginning with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and ending with her final autobiography A Song Flung Up to Heaven, Angelou used the metaphor of a bird struggling to escape its cage described in the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem, “Sympathy”, as a “central image” throughout all of her autobiographies. Like elements within a prison narrative, the caged bird represented Angelou’s confinement resulting from racism and oppression. This metaphor also invoked the “supposed contradiction of the bird singing in the midst of its struggle”. Reviewer Hilton Als observed that Angelou’s witness of the evil in her society, “generally directed at black women”, shaped Angelou’s young life and informed her views into adulthood.[39] Despite this, scholar Lynn Z. Bloom asserted that Angelou’s autobiographies and lectures, which he called “ranging in tone from warmly humorous to bitterly satiric”, has gained a respectful and enthusiastic response, both from the general public and from critics.

At least one reviewer has criticized Angelou for harboring “a fanatic hostility expressed toward all white people”, but writer Lyman B. Hagen disagreed, stating that like Angelou’s friend and mentor Langston Hughes, Angelou explained and illuminated the condition of African Americans, but without alienating her readers. For example, Angelou promoted the importance of hard work, a common theme in slave narratives, throughout all her autobiographies, in order to break the African American stereotype of laziness. In addition, Angelou’s description of the strong and cohesive Black community of Stamps demonstrated how African Americans have subverted repressive institutions to withstand racism. Scholar Liliane K. Arensberg insisted that Angelou demonstrated how she evolved out of her “racial hatred”; in Caged Bird, for example, Angelou wished that she could become white, but she later she shed her self-loathing and embraced a strong racial identity.

“I write because I am a Black woman, listening attentively to her people”.

Maya Angelou, 1984

Critic Pierre A. Walker has placed Angelou’s autobiographies in the African American literature tradition of political protest written in the years following the American Civil Rights movement. Walker has emphasized that the unity of Angelou’s autobiographies underscored one of Angelou’s central themes: the injustice of racism and how to fight it. Walker has also stated that Angelou’s biographies, beginning with Caged Bird, consisted of “a sequence of lessons about resisting racist oppression”.[105] This sequence led Angelou, as the protagonist, from “helpless rage and indignation to forms of subtle resistance, and finally to outright and active protest”[105] throughout all six of her autobiographies. Hagen stated that Angelou changed, in the course of her autobiographies, her views about Black-white relationships and learned to accept different points of views. It was Angelou’s “mental adjustments” regarding race, and about white people, that provided Angelou with freedom. He added that one of Angelou’s “universal themes” was that humans tend to be more alike than different.

“Human beings are more alike than unalike”.

Maya Angelou, 1994 (Scholar Mary Jane Lupton has called this one of Angelou’s most well-known sayings.

In Angelou’s third autobiography Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, in which she married a white man, she came into intimate contact with whites for the first time—whites very different than the racist people she encountered in her childhood. She discovered, as critic Selwyn R. Cudjoe put it, that her stereotypes of Whites were developed to protect herself from their cruelty and indifference. As critic Dolly A. McPherson stated, “Conditioned by earlier experiences, Angelou distrusts everyone, especially whites. Nevertheless, she is repeatedly surprised by the kindness and goodwill of many whites she meets, and, thus, her suspicions begin to soften into understanding”. Cudjoe stated that in Singin’ and Swingin’ , Angelou effectively demonstrated “the inviolability of the African American personhood”,as well as her own closely guarded defense of it. In order for her to have any positive relationships with whites and people of other races, however, McPherson insisted that Angelou “must examine and discard her stereotypical views about Whites”. Scholar Lyman B. Hagen agreed and pointed out that Angelou had to re-examine her lingering prejudices when faced with the broader world full of whites. As Hagen also stated, however, this was a complex process, since most of Angelou’s experiences with whites were positive during this time. Cudjoe stated that Angelou moved between the white and Black worlds, both defining herself as a member of her community and encountering whites in “a much fuller, more sensuous manner”. Angelou’s experiences with the Porgy and Bess tour, as described in Singin’ and Swingin’, expanded her understanding of other races and race relations as she met people of different nationalities during her travels. All these experiences were instrumental in Angelou’s “movement toward adulthood” and served as a basis for her later acceptance and tolerance of other races.

Angelou’s fourth autobiography The Heart of a Woman opened with Angelou and her son Guy living in an experimental commune with whites, in an attempt to participate in the new openness between Blacks and whites. She was not completely comfortable with the arrangement, however; as Lupton pointed out, Angelou never named her roommates. For the most part, Angelou was able to “cheerfully coexist” with whites in this book, but she occasionally encountered prejudice similar to earlier episodes, like when she required the assistance of white friends to rent a home in a segregated neighborhood. Lupton stated that compared to her other books, Angelou was “a long way” from her interactions with whites and people of other races. Hagen called the descriptions of whites and the hopes for eventual equality in this book “optimistic”. Angelou continued, however, her indictment of white power structure and her protests against racial injustice that has been a theme throughout all her books. Instead of offering solutions, however, Hagen stated that she simply reports, reacts, and dramatizes events.

Angelou became more “politicized” in The Heart of Woman, and developed a new sense of Black identity. As McPherson stated, even Angelou’s decision to leave show business was political.[144] McPherson also stated that this book was “a social and cultural history of Black Americans”[145] during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Angelou saw herself as a “personal historian”[146] of both the Civil Rights movement and the Black literary movement of the time. She became more attracted to the causes of Black militants, both in the U.S. and in Africa, to the point of entering into a relationship with South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make, and became more committed to activism. She became an active political protestor during this period, but she did not think of herself in that way. Instead, the focus was on herself, and she used the autobiographical form to demonstrate how the Civil Rights movement influenced one person involved in it. According to Hagen, her contributions to civil rights, as a fundraiser and SCLC organizer were successful and “eminently effective”.[147]

According to Lupton, “Angelou’s exploration of her African and African-American identities”[148] was an important theme in her fifth autobiography All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. The alliances and relationships with those she met in Ghana contributed to Angelou’s identity and growth.[149] Her experiences as an expatriate helped her come to terms with her personal and historical past, and by the end of the book she was ready to return to America with a deeper understanding of both the African and American parts of her character. McPherson called Angelou’s parallels and connections between Africa and America her “double-consciousness”,[150] which contribute to her understanding of herself.

In Traveling Shoes, Angelou was able to recognize similarities between African and African American culture; as Lupton put it, the “blue songs, shouts, and gospels” she has grown up with in America “echo the rhythms of West Africa”.[151] Angelou’s biographers, writing in A Glorious Celebration, the book published in 2008 for Angelou’s 80th birthday, agreed, stating that Angelou recognized the connections between African and American Black cultures, including the children’s games, the folklore, the spoken and non-verbal languages, the food, sensibilities, and behavior.[152] She connected the behavior of many African mother figures, especially their generosity, with her grandmother’s behaviors. In one of the most significant sections of Traveling Shoes, Angelou recounted an encounter with a West African woman who recognizes her, on the basis of her appearance, as a member of the Bambara group of West Africa. As Lupton stated, these and other experiences in Ghana demonstrated Angelou’s maturity, as a mother able to let go of her adult son, as a woman no longer dependent upon a man, and as an American able to “perceive the roots of her identity”[153] and how they affect her personality.

Also in Traveling Shoes, Angelou came to terms with her difficult past, both as a descendent of Africans taken forcibly to America as slaves and as an African-America who has experienced racism. As she tells an interviewer, she brought her son to Ghana to protect him from the negative effects of racism because she did not think he had the tools to withstand them.[154] For the first time in Angelou’s life, she did not “feel threatened by racial hate”[155] in Ghana. The theme of racism was still an important theme in Traveling Shoes, but she has matured in the way she dealt with it. As Hagen stated, Angelou was “not yet ready to toss off the stings of prejudice, but tolerance and even a certain understanding can be glimpsed”.[156] This was demonstrated in Angelou’s treatment of the “genocidal involvement of Africans in slave-trading”,[156] something that has often been overlooked or misrepresented by other Black writers. Angelou was taught an important lesson about combating racism by Malcolm X, who comparesdit to a mountain in which everyone’s efforts is needed.[157]

Angelou learned about herself and about racism throughout Traveling Shoes, even during her brief tour of Venice and Berlin for The Blacks revival. She revived her passion for African American culture while associating with other African Americans for the first time since moving to Ghana.[158] She compared her experiences of American racism with Germany’s history of racial prejudice and military aggression.[159] The verbal violence of the folk tales shared during her luncheon with her German hosts and Israeli friend was as significant to Angelou as physical violence, to the point that she beaome ill. Angelou’s first-hand experience with fascism, as well as the racist sensibilities of the German family she visited, “help shape and broaden her constantly changing vision”[160] regarding racial prejudice.

IdentityAccording to scholar Yolanda M. Manora, the theme of identity was established from the beginning of Angelou’s series of autobiographies, with the opening lines in Caged Bird, which “foretell Angelou’s autobiographical project: to write the story of the developing black female subject by sharing the tale of one Southern Black girl’s becoming”.[161] As feminist scholar Maria Lauret has indicated, Angelou and other female writers in the late 1960s and early 1970s used the autobiography to reimagine ways of writing about women’s lives and identities in a male-dominated society. Lauret has made a connection between Angelou’s autobiographies, which Lauret called “fictions of subjectivity” and “feminist first-person narratives”, and fictional first-person narratives (such as The Women’s Room by Marilyn French and The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing) written during the same period. Both genres employed the narrator as protagonist and used “the illusion of presence in their mode of signification”.[101] Manora agreed, stating that Angelou broke stereotypes of the African American women “by first establishing and then disrupting dominant images”[162] of the Black female, which set the stage for Angelou’s identity development in her later autobiographies.

When I try to describe myself to God I say, “Lord, remember me? Black? Female? Six-foot tall? The writer?” And I almost always get God’s attention.

Maya Angelou, 2008.[163]

Lauret has stated that “the formation of female cultural identity”[164] has been woven into Angelou’s narratives. Angelou has presented herself as a role model for African American women by reconstructing the Black woman’s image throughout her autobiographies, and has used her many roles, incarnations, and identities to “signify multiple layers of oppression and personal history”.[164] Lauret has viewed Angelou’s themes of the individual’s strength and ability to overcome throughout Angelou’s autobiographies as well.[164] Manora agreed, stating that the women Angelou presents in her autobiographies, especially Caged Bird, influenced the woman Angelou became. Three characters in Caged Bird, Angelou’s mother Vivian, her grandmother Annie Henderson, and Mrs. Flowers (who helps Angelou find her voice again after her rape}, collaborated to “form a triad which serves as the critical matrix in which the child is nurtured and sustained during her journey through Southern Black girlhood”.[165][note 9]

Author Hilton Als has insisted that while Angelou’s original goal was to “tell the truth about the lives of black women”,[39] her goal evolved in her later volumes to document the ups and downs of her own life. Als has stated that Angelou’s autobiographies had the same structure: a historical overview of the places she was living in at the time and how she coped within the context of a larger white society, as well as the ways that her story played out within that context. Critic Selwyn Cudjoe agreed with Als, and stated that Angelou, especially in her third autobiography, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, successfully demonstrated “the inviolability of the [African American] personhood”[135] as she increased positive interactions with whites. In Angelou’s second volume, Gather Together in My Name, Angelou was concerned with what it meant to be a black female in the U.S., but she focused upon herself at a certain point in history. As Cudjoe has said, “It is almost as though the incidents in the text were simply ‘gathered together’ under the name of Maya Angelou”.[168]

Family”Kinship concerns”,[169] from the character-defining experience of Angelou’s parents’ abandonment to her relationships with her son, husbands, and lovers are important in all of her books.[169] Scholar Mary Jane Lupton has stated that “the mother-child pattern”[170] was the only unifying theme that connected all of Angelou’s autobiographies. African American literature scholar Dolly McPherson has insisted that Angelou’s concept of family must be understood in the light of the way in which she and her older brother were displaced by their parents at the beginning ofCaged Bird.[171] Motherhood was a “prevailing theme”[83] in all of Angelou’s autobiographies, specifically her experiences as a single mother, a daughter, and a granddaughter.[83] Lupton believed that Angelou’s plot construction and character development were influenced by this mother/child motif found in the work of Harlem Renaissance poet Jessie Fauset.[172]

Scholar Yolanda M. Manora has insisted that three women in Caged Bird—the “hybridized mother”[173] of Angelou’s grandmother, her mother, and her friend Mrs. Flowers—taught her how to be a mother to her son Guy. Although Angelou’s grandmother died early in the series, in her third autobiography Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, Angelou quoted her many times throughout the series.[174] Angelou’s desire for security for Guy drove her to marry Tosh Angelos in Singin’ and Swingin’, and drove many of her decisions, job choices, and romantic relationships.[175] Koyana stated that due to Angelou’s race and economic background, her “experience of motherhood is inseparably intertwined with work”.[176] According to Koyana, “…Black motherhood always encompassed work”.[177] Angelou’s long list of occupations attested to the challenges, especially in her second autobiography Gather Together in My Name, she faced as a working teenager mother, which often led Angelou to “some quick and easy decisions”.[177] Koyana stated that it was not until Angelou was able to take advantage of opportunities such as her role in Porgy and Bess when she was able to fully support her and Guy, and the quality of her life and her contribution to society improved.[178] It was impossible, however, for Angelou to become successful without her extended family to provide childcare for her;[178] i.e., when she left Guy in the care of his grandmother in spite of the conflict and guilt she experienced as a result (something Koyana insisted was imposed on her by the larger society),[179] a pattern established in Caged Bird by her own mother when she left Angelou and her brother in the care of Angelou’s grandmother.[178]

The woman who survives intact and happy must be at once tender and tough.

Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now (1993) [180]

Scholar Mary Burgher has stated that Black women autobiographers like Angelou have debunked the stereotypes of African American mothers of “breeder and matriarch” and have presented them as having “a creative and personally fulfilling role”.[181] Scholar Sondra O’Neale agreed, and insisted that Angelou’s autobiographies presented Black women differently than literature had portrayed them up to that time. O’Neale stated that “no Black woman in the world of Angelou’s books are losers”,[182] and that Angelou was the third generation of “brilliantly resourceful females” who overcame the obstacles of racism and oppression.[182] African American literature professor Siphokazi Koyana recognized that Angelou depicted women, which Koyana called her “womanist theories”,[176] in an era of cultural transition, and that her books described one Black woman’s “attempt to forge and maintain a healthy sense of self”.[176] Angelou’s experiences as a working-class single mother, Koyana insisted, challenged traditional and Western viewpoints of women and family life,[176] and that Angelou’s autobiographies were “a powerful attack on the nuclear family structure”.[178] Koyana went on to state that Angelou was describing societal forces that eventually expanded to the white family, and that Angelou’s strategies of economic survival and experiences of family structure enabled Black families “to survive the harsh economic realities”.[183]

Awards and honorsMain article: List of awards and nominations received by Maya Angelou
Angelou is one of the most honored writers of her generation. She has been honored by universities, literary organizations, government agencies, and special interest groups. Her honors have included a National Book Award nomination for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her book of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie,[5] a Tony Award nomination for her role in the 1973 play Look Away, and three Grammys for her spoken word albums.[184][185] In 1995, Angelou’s publishing company, Random House, recognized her for having the longest-running record (two years) on The New York Times Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller List.[186] She has served on two presidential committees,[187] and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2000,[188] the Lincoln Medal in 2008,[189] and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.[190] Angelou has been awarded over thirty honorary degrees.[191]

ReferencesFootnotes1.^ In her fifth autobiography All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1987), Angelou recounts being identified, on the basis of her appearance, as part of the Bambara people, a subset of the Mande (Angelou 1987, pp. 206—207).
2.^ According to Angelou, Annie Henderson built her business with food stalls catering to Black workers, which eventually developed into a store.[15]
3.^ Reviewer John M. Miller calls Angelou’s performance of her song, “All That Happens in the Marketplace” the “most genuine musical moment in the film”.
4.^ Guy Johnson, who as a result of this accident in Accra and one in the late 1960s, underwent a series of spinal surgeries. He also, like his mother, became a writer and poet.[46]
5.^ Angelou called her friendship with Malcolm X “a brother/sister relationship”.[51]
6.^ Angelou did not celebrate her birthday for many years, choosing instead to send flowers to King’s widow Coretta Scott King.

7.^ Angelou dedicated her 1993 book of essays Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now to Winfrey 8.^ In Angelou’s essay, “My Grandson, Home at Last”, published in Woman’s Day in 1986, she describes the kidnapping and her response to it.[67]
9.^ Manora categorized these women into three archetypes, which represented the Black woman in Angelou’s autobiographies: Vivian as “the Black Jezebel”,[166] Annie as the “Black Matriarch”,[165] and Mrs. Flowers as “the Lady”.

Posted February 23, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Novelist / Poet

Maya Angelous, American Author   Leave a comment


Maya Angelous, American Author

Maya Angelou born Marguerite Ann Johnson; April 4, 1928) is an American author and poet who has been called “America’s most visible black female autobiographer” by scholar Joanne M. Braxton. She is best known for her series of six autobiographical volumes, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first and most highly acclaimed, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her first seventeen years. It brought her international recognition, and was nominated for a National Book Award. She has been awarded over 30 honorary degrees and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her 1971 volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie.[5]. In 2011, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom the highest civilian honour in the U.S.

Angelou was a member of the Harlem Writers Guild in the late 1950s, was active in the Civil Rights movement, and served as Northern Coordinator of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Since 1991, she has taught at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where she holds the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies. Since the 1990s she has made around eighty appearances a year on the lecture circuit. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. In 1995, she was recognized for having the longest-running record (two years) on The New York Times Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller List.

With the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou was heralded as a new kind of memoirist, one of the first African American women who was able to publicly discuss her personal life. She is highly respected as a spokesperson for Black people and women. Angelou’s work is often characterized as autobiographical fiction.[6] She has, however, made a deliberate attempt to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre. Her books, centered on themes such as identity, family, and racism, are often used as set texts in schools and universities internationally. Some of her more controversial work has been challenged or banned in U.S. schools and library.

Early years
Marguerite Johnson was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928, the second child of Bailey Johnson, a navy dietitian, and Vivian (Baxter) Johnson, a nurse and card dealer. Angelou’s older brother, Bailey Jr., nicknamed Marguerite “Maya”, shortened from “my-a-sister”. The details of Angelou’s life described in her six autobiographies and in numerous interviews, speeches, and articles tend to be inconsistent. Her biographer, Mary Jane Lupton, has explained that when Angelou has spoken about her life, she has done so eloquently but informally and “with no time chart in front of her”.

And Angelou’s life has certainly been a full one: from the hardscrabble Depression era South to pimp, prostitute, supper-club chanteuse, performer in Porgy and Bess, coordinator for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, journalist in Egypt and Ghana in the heady days of decolonization, comrade of Malcolm X, eyewitness to the Watts riots. She knew King and Malcolm, Billie Holiday and Abbey Lincoln.–Reviewer John McWhorter, The New Republic

Evidence suggests that Angelou is partially descended from the Mende people of West Africa.[note 1] A 2008 PBS documentary found that Angelou’s maternal great-grandmother, Mary Lee, who had been emancipated after the Civil War, became pregnant by her former white owner, John Savin. Savin forced Lee to sign a false statement accusing another man of being the father of her child. After indicting Savin for forcing Lee to commit perjury, and despite discovering that Savin was the father, a grand jury found him not guilty. Lee was sent to the Clinton County poorhouse in Missouri with her daughter, Marguerite Baxter, who became Angelou’s grandmother. Angelou described Lee as “that poor little Black girl, physically and mentally bruised.”[12]

The first 17 years of Angelou’s life are documented in her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. When Angelou was three, and her brother four, their parents’ “calamitous marriage”[13] ended. Their father sent them to Stamps, Arkansas alone by train to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson. In what editor Claudia Johnson called “an astonishing exception to the harsh economics of African Americans of the time, Angelou’s grandmother prospered financially during the Great Depression and World War II because the general store she owned sold needed basic commodities and because “she made wise and honest investments”

Four years later, the children’s father “came to Stamps without warning” and returned them to their mother’s care in St. Louis. At age eight, while living with her mother, Angelou was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. She confessed it to her brother, who told the rest of their family. Freeman was found guilty, but was jailed for one day. Four days after his release, he was killed, probably by Angelou’s uncles. Angelou became mute for almost five years, believing, as she has stated, “I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone… According to Angelou’s biographers it was during this period of silence when Angelou developed her extraordinary memory, her love for books and literature, and her ability to listen and observe the world around her.

Shortly after Freeman’s murder, Angelou and her brother were sent back to their grandmother once again. Angelou credits a teacher and friend of her family, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, with helping her speak again. Flowers introduced her to authors such as Dickens, Shakespeare, Poe, Douglas Johnson, and James Weldon Johnson, authors that would affect her life and career as well as Black female artists like Frances Harper, Anne Spencer, and Jessie Fauset.When Angelou was 14, she and her brother returned to live with her mother in Oakland, California. During World War II, she attended George Washington High School while studying dance and drama on a scholarship at the California Labor School. Before graduating, she worked as the first Black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.Three weeks after completing school, she gave birth to her son, Clyde, who also became a poet. At the end of Angelou’s third autobiography, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, her son changed his name to “Guy Johnson”.

Angelou’s second autobiography, Gather Together in My Name, recounts her life from age 17 to 19 and “depicts a single mother’s slide down the social ladder into poverty and crime. Angelou worked as “the front woman/business manager for prostitutes, restaurant cook, and prostitute. She moved through a series of relationships, occupations, and cities as she attempted to raise her son without job training or advanced education.

Adulthood and early career: 1951—1961Angelou has been married three times or more (something she has never clarified, “for fear of sounding frivolous”). In her third autobiography, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, Angelou describes her three-year marriage to Greek electrician, former sailor, and aspiring musician Enistasious (Tosh) Angelos in 1951, despite the condemnation of interracial relationships at the time and the disapproval of her mother. She took modern dances classes during this time, and met dancers and choreographers Alvin Ailey and Ruth Beckford. Angelou and Ailey formed a dance team, calling themselves “Al and Rita”, and performed Modern Dance at fraternal Black organizations throughout San Francisco, but never became successful. She studied African dance with Trinidadian dancer Pearl Primus, and her new husband and son moved with her to New York City, but they returned to San Francisco a year later.

After Angelou’s marriage ended, she danced professionally in clubs around San Francisco, including the nightclub The Purple Onion, where she sang and danced calypso music. Up to that point she went by the name of “Marguerite Johnson”, or “Rita”, but changed her professional name to, at the strong suggestion of her managers and supporters at The Purple Onion, “Maya Angelou”, a “distinctive name” that set her apart and captured the feel of her Calypso dance performances. During 1954 and 1955 Angelou toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. She began her practice of trying to learn the language of every country she visited, and in a few years she gained proficiency in several languages. In 1957, riding on the popularity of calypso, Angelou recorded her first album, Miss Calypso, which was reissued as a CD in 1996. She appeared in an off-Broadway review that inspired the film Calypso Heat Wave, in which Angelou sang and performed her own compositions.

As Angelou described in her fourth autobiography, The Heart of a Woman, she met novelist James O. Killens in 1959, and at his urging, moved to New York to concentrate on her writing career. She joined the Harlem Writers Guild, where she met several major African American authors, including John Henrik Clarke, Rosa Guy, Paule Marshall, and Julian Mayfield, and was published for the first time.[38] After meeting and hearing civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in 1960, she and Killens organized “the legendary”[39] Cabaret for Freedom to benefit the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and was named SCLC’s Northern Coordinator. According to Hagen, her contributions to civil rights as a fundraiser and SCLC organizer were successful and “eminently effective”.[40] Angelou began her pro-Castro and anti-apartheid activism during this time.[41]

Africa to Caged Bird: 1961—1969In 1961, Angelou met South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make; they never officially married. Also in 1961, she performed in Jean Genet’s The Blacks, along with Abbey Lincoln, Roscoe Lee Brown, James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett, Godfrey Cambridge, and Cicely Tyson. She and Guy moved to Cairo later that year with Make, where Angelou worked as an associate editor at the weekly English-language newspaper The Arab Observer. In 1962 her relationship with Make ended, and she and Guy moved to Accra, Ghana, he to attend college, where he was seriously injured in an automobile accident. Angelou remained in Accra for his recovery and ended up staying there until 1965, later relating her experiences as an African American residing in Ghana in her fifth autobiography, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. She became an administrator at the University of Ghana, and was active in the African-American expatriate community] She was a feature editor for The African Review, a freelance writer for the Ghanaian Times, wrote and broadcast for Radio Ghana, and worked and performed for Ghana’s National Theatre. She performed in a revival of The Blacks in Geneva and Berlin.

Most of Angelu’s time in Africa was spent in Accra, Ghana.In Accra, she became close friends with Malcolm X during his visit in the early 1960s.[note 5] As she wrote about in her sixth and final autobiography A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002), Angelou returned to the U.S. to help him build a new civil rights organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity in 1965; he was assassinated shortly afterward. Devastated and adrift, she joined her brother in Hawaii, where she resumed her singing career, and then moved back to Los Angeles to focus on her writing career. She worked as a market researcher in Watts and witnessed the riots in the summer of 1965. She acted in and wrote plays, and returned to New York in 1967. She met her life-long friend Rosa Guy and renewed her friendship with James Baldwin, whom she met in Paris in the 1950s and called “my brother”, during this time. Her friend Jerry Purcell provided Angelou with a stipend to support her writing.

In 1968, King asked her to organize a march. She agreed, but “postpones again”, and in what Angelou’s biographers call “a macabre twist of fate”, he was assassinated on her 40th birthday (April 4).[note 6] Devastated again, she was encouraged out of her depression by Baldwin. As her biographers state, “If 1968 was a year of great pain, loss, and sadness, it was also the year when America first witnessed the breadth and depth of Maya Angelou’s spirit and creative genius”. Despite almost no experience, she wrote, produced, and narrated “Blacks, Blues, Black!”, a ten-part series of documentaries which dealt with the connection between blues music and Black Americans’ African heritage, as well as what Angelou called the “Africanisms still current in the U.S.” for the National Educational Television, the precursor of PBS. Also in 1968, inspired by a dinner party she attended with her friend James Baldwin, cartoonist Jules Feiffer, and Feiffer’s wife Judy, and challenged by Random House editor Robert Loomis, she wrote her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969, which brought her international recognition and acclaim.

Later careerAngelou’s Georgia, Georgia, produced by a Swedish film company and filmed in Sweden, the first screenplay written by a Black woman, was released in 1972. She also wrote the film’s soundtrack, despite having very little additional input in the filming of the movie. Angelou married Welsh carpenter and ex-husband of Germaine Greer, Paul du Feu, in San Francisco in 1973. In the next ten years, as her biographers stated, “She had accomplished more than many artists hope to achieve in a lifetime”.[60] She worked as a composer, writing for singer Roberta Flack and composing movie scores. She wrote articles, short stories, TV scripts and documentaries, autobiographies and poetry, produced plays, and was named visiting professors of several colleges and universities. She was “a reluctant actor”, and was nominated for a Tony Award in 1973 for her role in Look Away. In 1977 Angelou appeared in a supporting role in the television mini-series Roots. She began being awarded with hundreds of awards and honorary degrees from colleges and universities from all over the world.

In all the days of my life, I never met a woman who was more completely herself than Maya Angelou. She fully inhabits and owns every space of herself with no pretense and no false modesty. She has a certain way of being in this world. When you walk into a room and she’s there, you know it. She is fully aware of what it means to be human, and share that humanity with others. Being around her makes you want to do the same, be more fully your own self.–Oprah Winfrey, 2008

In the late ’70s, Angelou met Oprah Winfrey when Winfrey was a TV anchor in Baltimore, Maryland; Angelou would later become Winfrey’s close friend and mentor.[note 7] In 1981, Angelou and du Feu divorced. Her attempts at producing and directing films were frustrated throughout the 80s. She returned to the southern United States in 1981, where she accepted the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she taught a variety of subjects that reflected her interests, including philosophy, ethics, theology, science, theater, and writing.[65] Also in 1981, the mother of her son Guy’s child disappeared with him; it took eight years to find Angelou’s grandson.[note 8]

In 1993, Antelou recited her poem On the Pulse of Morning at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, becoming the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. Her recitation resulted in more fame and recognition for her previous works, and broadened her appeal “across racial, economic, and educational boundaries”.[69] The recording of the poem was awarded a Grammy Award.[70] In June 1995, she delivered what Richard Long called her “second ‘public’ poem”,[71] entitled “A Brave and Startling Truth”, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. Angelou finally achieved her goal of directing a feature film in 1996, Down in the Delta, which featured actors such as Alfre Woodard and Wesley Snipes.

Angelou’s mother Vivian Baxter and brother Bailey Johnson, Jr., both of whom were important figures in her life and her books, died; her mother in 1991 and her brother in 2000 after a series of strokes. Since the 1990s, Angelou has actively participated in the lecture circuit[68] in a customized tour bus, something she continued into her eighties. In 2000, she created a successful collection of products for Hallmark, including greeting cards and decorative household items. Over thirty years after Angelou began writing her life story, Angelou completed the sixth and final autobiography in her series of six, A Song Flung Up to Heaven, in 2002.

Angelou campaigned for Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party in the 2008 presidential primaries. When Clinton’s campaign ended, Angelou put her support behind Senator Barack Obama, who won the election and became the first African American president of the United States. She stated, “We are growing up beyond the idiocies of racism and sexism”.[80] In late 2010, Angelou donated her personal papers and career memorabilia to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.[81] They consisted of over 340 boxes of documents that featured her handwritten notes on yellow legal pads for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a 1982 telegram from Coretta Scott King, fan mail, and personal and professional correspondence from colleagues such as Robert Loomis.

Angelou’s workMain article: List of Maya Angelou works
Although Angelou wrote her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, without the intention of writing a series,[83] she went on to write five additional volumes. The volumes “stretch over time and place”, from Arkansas to Africa and back to the U.S., and take place from the beginnings of World War II to King’s assassination. Critics have tended to judge Angelou’s subsequent autobiographies “in light of the first”,[83] with Caged Bird receiving the highest praise. Angelou has written collections of essays, including Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993) and Even the Stars Look Lonesome (1997), which writer Hilton Als called her “wisdom books” and “homilies strung together with autobiographical texts”. Angelou has used the same editor throughout her writing career, Robert Loomis, an executive editor at Random House, who retired in 2011[85] and has been called “one of publishing’s hall of fame editors. Angelou has said regarding Loomis: “We have a relationship that’s kind of famous among publishers”.

All my work, my life, everything I do is about survival, not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated”. –Maya Angelou

Angelou’s long and extensive career also includes poetry, plays, screenplays for television and film, directing, acting, and public speaking. She is a prolific writer of poetry; her volume Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie (1971) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize,[5] and she was chosen by President Bill Clinton to recite her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” during his inauguration in 1993.[68]

Angelou’s successful acting career has included roles in numerous plays, films, and television programs, including her appearance in the television mini-series Roots in 1977. Her screenplay,Georgia, Georgia (1972), was the first original script by a Black woman to be produced and she was the first African American woman to direct a major motion picture, Down in the Delta, in 1998.[72] Since the 1990s, Angelou has actively participated in the lecture circuit, something she continued into her eighties.

Reception and legacyInfluence
President Barack Obama presenting Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2011When I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1969, Angelou was hailed as a new kind of memoirist, one of the first African American women who was able to publicly discuss her personal life. Up to that point, black female writers were marginalized to the point that they were unable to present themselves as central characters. Scholar John McWhorter agreed, seeing Angelou’s works, which he called “tracts”, as “apologetic writing” more than autobiographical. He placed Angelou in the tradition of African American literature as a defense of Black culture, which he called “a literary manifestation of the imperative that reigned in the black scholarship of the period”.Writer Julian Mayfield, who called Caged Bird “a work of art that eludes description”,[39] has insisted that Angelou’s autobiographies set a precedent not only for other black women writers, but for the genre of autobiography as a whole.[39] Through the writing of her autobiography, Angelou had become recognized and highly respected as a spokesperson for blacks and women. It made her “without a doubt, … America’s most visible black woman autobiographer”, and “a major autobiographical voice of the time”.[90] As writer Gary Younge has said, “Probably more than almost any other writer alive, Angelou’s life literally is her work”.[8]

Author Hilton Als has insisted that although Caged Bird was an important contribution to the increase of black feminist writings in the 1970s, he attributed its success less to its originality than with “its resonance in the prevailing Zeitgeist”, or the time in which it was written, at the end of the American Civil Rights movement. Als also insisted that Angelou’s writings, more interested in self-revelation than in politics or feminism, has freed many other female writers to “open themselves up without shame to the eyes of the world”. Angelou biographer Joanne M. Braxton has insisted that Caged Bird was “perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing” autobiography written by an African-American woman in its era.

Critical receptionReviewer Elsie B. Washington, most likely due to President Clinton’s choice of Angelou to recite her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at his 1993 inauguration, has called Angelou “the black woman’s poet laureate” Sales of the paperback version of her books and poetry rose by 300–600% the week after Angelou’s recitation. Bantam Books had to reprint 400,000 copies of all her books to keep up with the demand. Random House, which published Angelou’s hardcover books and published the poem later that year, reported that they sold more of her books in January 1993 than they did in all of 1992, accounting for a 1200% increase. Angelou has famously said, in response to criticism regarding using the details of her life in her work, “I agree with Balzac and 19th-century writers, black and white, who say, ‘I write for money'”.

Angelou’s books, especially I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, have been criticized by many parents, causing their removal from school curricula and library shelves. According to the National Coalition Against Censorship, parents and schools have objected to Caged Bird’s depictions of lesbianism, premarital cohabitation, pornography, and violence.[93] Some have been critical of the book’s sexually explicit scenes, use of language, and irreverent religious depictions. Caged Bird appeared third on the American Library Association (ALA) list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000,[95] sixth on the ALA’s 2000-2009 list,[96] and one of the ten books most frequently banned from high school and junior high school libraries and classrooms.

Uses in educationAngelou’s autobiographies have been used in narrative and multicultural approaches in teacher education. Jocelyn A. Glazier, a professor at George Washington University, has trained teachers how to “talk about race” in their classrooms with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Gather Together in My Name. According to Glazier, Angelou’s use of understatement, self-mockery, humor, and irony, have led readers of Angelou’s autobiographies unsure of what she “left out” and how they should respond to the events Angelou describes. Angelou’s depictions of her experiences of racism has forced white readers to explore their feelings about race and their own “privileged status”. Glazier found that although critics have focused on where Angelou fits within the genre of African-American autobiography and on her literary techniques, readers have tended to react to her storytelling with “surprise, particularly when [they] enter the text with certain expectations about the genre of autobiography”.

Educator Daniel Challener, in his 1997 book, Stories of Resilience in Childhood, analyzed the events in Caged Bird to illustrate resiliency in children. Challener insisted that Angelou’s book has provided a “useful framework” for exploring the obstacles many children like have Maya faced and how communities have helped children succeed as Angelou did.[98] Psychologist Chris Boyatzis has reported using Caged Bird to supplement scientific theory and research in the instruction of child development topics such as the development of self-concept and self-esteem, ego resilience, industry versus inferiority, effects of abuse, parenting styles, sibling and friendship relations, gender issues, cognitive development, puberty, and identity formation in adolescence. He found the book a “highly effective” tool for providing real-life examples of these psychological concepts.

Style and genreAngelou’s use of fiction-writing techniques such as dialogue, characterization, and development of theme, setting, plot, and language has often resulted in the placement of her books into the genre of autobiographical fiction, but Angelou has characterized them as autobiographies. As feminist scholar Maria Lauret has stated, Angelou has made a deliberate attempt in her books to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre.[101] Scholar Mary Jane Lupton has insisted that all of Angelou’s autobiographies conform to the genre’s standard structure: they are written by a single author, they are chronological, and they contain elements of character, technique, and theme. Angelou has also recognized that there are fictional aspects to her books. Lupton has stated that Angelou has tended to “diverge from the conventional notion of autobiography as truth”,[102] which has paralleled the conventions of much of African American autobiography written during the abolitionist period of U.S. history, when as both Lupton and African American scholar Crispin Sartwell put it, the truth was censored out of the need for self-protection.Scholar Lyman B. Hagen places Angelou in the long tradition of African American autobiography, but insists that Angelou has created a unique interpretation of the autobiographical form.

The challenge for much of the history of African American literature was that its authors have had to confirm its status as literature before they could accomplish their political goals, which was why Angelou’s editor Robert Loomis was able to dare her into writing Caged Bird by challenging her to write an autobiography that could be considered “high art”. Angelou has acknowledged that she has followed the slave narrative tradition of “speaking in the first-person singular talking about the first-person plural, always saying I meaning ‘we'”.[83] Scholar John McWhorter called Angelou’s books “tracts” that defended African-American culture and fought against negative stereotypes. According to McWhorter, Angelou structured her books, which to him seemed to be written more for children than for adults, to support her defense of Black culture. McWhorter saw Angelou as she depicted herself in her autobiographies “as a kind of stand-in figure for the Black American in Troubled Times”.[89] Although McWhorter saw Angelou’s works as dated, he recognized that “she has helped to pave the way for contemporary black writers who are able to enjoy the luxury of being merely individuals, no longer representatives of the race, only themselves.[106] Scholar Lynn Z. Bloom has compared Angelou’s works to the writings of Frederick Douglass, stating that both fulfilled the same purpose: to describe Black culture and to interpret it for her wider, white audience.

According to scholar Sondra O’Neale, whereas Angelou’s poetry could be placed within the African American oral tradition, her prose “follows classic technique in nonpoetic Western forms”.[108] O’Neale stated that although Angelou avoided a “monolithic Black language”,[109] she accomplished, through direct dialogue, of what O’Neale called a “more expected ghetto expressiveness”.[109] McWhorter, however, found both the language Angelou used in her autobiographies and the people she depicted unrealistic, resulting in a separation between her and her audience. As McWhorter stated, “I have never read autobiographical writing where I had such a hard time summoning a sense of how the subject talks, or a sense of who the subject really is”.[110] McWhorter asserted, for example, that Angelou’s depiction of key figures like herself, her son Guy, and mother Vivian did not speak as one would expect, and that their speech was “cleaned up”.[111] Guy, for example, represented the young Black male, while Vivian represented the idealized mother figure. The stiff language Angelou used, both in her text and in the language of her subjects, was intended to prove that Blacks were able to competently use standard English.

McWhorter recognized, however, that much of the reason for Angelou’s style was the “apologetic” nature of her writing.[89] When Angelou wrote Caged Bird at the end of the 1960s, one of the necessary and accepted features of literature at the time was “organic unity”, and one of her goals was to create a book that satisfied that criteria.[105] The events in her books were episodic and crafted like a series of short stories, but their arrangements did not follow a strict chronology. Instead, they were placed to emphasize the themes of her books.[105] English literature scholar Valerie Sayers has asserted that “Angelou’s poetry and prose are similar”. They both relied on her “direct voice”, which alternated steady rhythms with syncopated patterns and used similes and metaphors (i.e., the caged bird).[113] According to Hagen, Angelou’s works have been influenced by both conventional literary and the oral traditions of the African American community. For example, she referenced over 100 literary characters throughout her books and poetry.[114] In addition, she used the elements of blues music, including the act of testimony when speaking of one’s life and struggles, ironic understatement, and the use of natural metaphors, rhythms, and intonations.[115] Angelou, instead of depending upon plot, used personal and historical events to shape her books.

I make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music.

Maya Angelou, 1999[117]

“I also wear a hat or a very tightly pulled head tie when I write. I suppose I hope by doing that I will keep my brains from seeping out of my scalp and running in great gray blobs down my neck, into my ears, and over my face”.

Maya Angelou, 1986

“Nothing so frightens me as writing, but nothing so satisfies me. It’s like a swimmer in the [English] Channel: you face the stingrays and waves and cold and grease, and finally you reach the other shore, and you put your foot on the ground—Aaaahhhh!”—Maya Angelou, 1989

Beginning with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou has used the same “writing ritual” for many years. She would wake early in the morning and check into a hotel room, where the staff was instructed to remove any pictures from the walls. She would write on legal pads while lying on the bed, with only a bottle of sherry, a deck of cards to play solitaire, Roget’s Thesaurus, and the Bible, and would leave by the early afternoon. She would average 10–12 pages of written material a day, which she edited down to three or four pages in the evening. Angelou went through this process to “enchant” herself, and as she has said in a 1989 interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, “relive the agony, the anguish, the Sturm und Drang.” She placed herself back in the time she is writing about, even traumatic experiences like her rape in Caged Bird, in order to “tell the human truth” about her life. Angelou has stated that she played cards in order to get to that place of enchantment, in order to access her memories more effectively. She has stated, “It may take an hour to get into it, but once I’m in it—ha! It’s so delicious!” She did not find the process cathartic; rather, she has found relief in “telling the truth”.

Themes in Angelou’s autobiographiesRacismBeginning with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and ending with her final autobiography A Song Flung Up to Heaven, Angelou used the metaphor of a bird struggling to escape its cage described in the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem, “Sympathy”, as a “central image” throughout all of her autobiographies. Like elements within a prison narrative, the caged bird represented Angelou’s confinement resulting from racism and oppression. This metaphor also invoked the “supposed contradiction of the bird singing in the midst of its struggle”. Reviewer Hilton Als observed that Angelou’s witness of the evil in her society, “generally directed at black women”, shaped Angelou’s young life and informed her views into adulthood.[39] Despite this, scholar Lynn Z. Bloom asserted that Angelou’s autobiographies and lectures, which he called “ranging in tone from warmly humorous to bitterly satiric”, has gained a respectful and enthusiastic response, both from the general public and from critics.

At least one reviewer has criticized Angelou for harboring “a fanatic hostility expressed toward all white people”, but writer Lyman B. Hagen disagreed, stating that like Angelou’s friend and mentor Langston Hughes, Angelou explained and illuminated the condition of African Americans, but without alienating her readers. For example, Angelou promoted the importance of hard work, a common theme in slave narratives, throughout all her autobiographies, in order to break the African American stereotype of laziness. In addition, Angelou’s description of the strong and cohesive Black community of Stamps demonstrated how African Americans have subverted repressive institutions to withstand racism. Scholar Liliane K. Arensberg insisted that Angelou demonstrated how she evolved out of her “racial hatred”; in Caged Bird, for example, Angelou wished that she could become white, but she later she shed her self-loathing and embraced a strong racial identity.

“I write because I am a Black woman, listening attentively to her people”.

Maya Angelou, 1984

Critic Pierre A. Walker has placed Angelou’s autobiographies in the African American literature tradition of political protest written in the years following the American Civil Rights movement. Walker has emphasized that the unity of Angelou’s autobiographies underscored one of Angelou’s central themes: the injustice of racism and how to fight it. Walker has also stated that Angelou’s biographies, beginning with Caged Bird, consisted of “a sequence of lessons about resisting racist oppression”.[105] This sequence led Angelou, as the protagonist, from “helpless rage and indignation to forms of subtle resistance, and finally to outright and active protest”[105] throughout all six of her autobiographies. Hagen stated that Angelou changed, in the course of her autobiographies, her views about Black-white relationships and learned to accept different points of views. It was Angelou’s “mental adjustments” regarding race, and about white people, that provided Angelou with freedom. He added that one of Angelou’s “universal themes” was that humans tend to be more alike than different.

“Human beings are more alike than unalike”.

Maya Angelou, 1994 (Scholar Mary Jane Lupton has called this one of Angelou’s most well-known sayings.

In Angelou’s third autobiography Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, in which she married a white man, she came into intimate contact with whites for the first time—whites very different than the racist people she encountered in her childhood. She discovered, as critic Selwyn R. Cudjoe put it, that her stereotypes of Whites were developed to protect herself from their cruelty and indifference. As critic Dolly A. McPherson stated, “Conditioned by earlier experiences, Angelou distrusts everyone, especially whites. Nevertheless, she is repeatedly surprised by the kindness and goodwill of many whites she meets, and, thus, her suspicions begin to soften into understanding”. Cudjoe stated that in Singin’ and Swingin’ , Angelou effectively demonstrated “the inviolability of the African American personhood”,as well as her own closely guarded defense of it. In order for her to have any positive relationships with whites and people of other races, however, McPherson insisted that Angelou “must examine and discard her stereotypical views about Whites”. Scholar Lyman B. Hagen agreed and pointed out that Angelou had to re-examine her lingering prejudices when faced with the broader world full of whites. As Hagen also stated, however, this was a complex process, since most of Angelou’s experiences with whites were positive during this time. Cudjoe stated that Angelou moved between the white and Black worlds, both defining herself as a member of her community and encountering whites in “a much fuller, more sensuous manner”. Angelou’s experiences with the Porgy and Bess tour, as described in Singin’ and Swingin’, expanded her understanding of other races and race relations as she met people of different nationalities during her travels. All these experiences were instrumental in Angelou’s “movement toward adulthood” and served as a basis for her later acceptance and tolerance of other races.

Angelou’s fourth autobiography The Heart of a Woman opened with Angelou and her son Guy living in an experimental commune with whites, in an attempt to participate in the new openness between Blacks and whites. She was not completely comfortable with the arrangement, however; as Lupton pointed out, Angelou never named her roommates. For the most part, Angelou was able to “cheerfully coexist” with whites in this book, but she occasionally encountered prejudice similar to earlier episodes, like when she required the assistance of white friends to rent a home in a segregated neighborhood. Lupton stated that compared to her other books, Angelou was “a long way” from her interactions with whites and people of other races. Hagen called the descriptions of whites and the hopes for eventual equality in this book “optimistic”. Angelou continued, however, her indictment of white power structure and her protests against racial injustice that has been a theme throughout all her books. Instead of offering solutions, however, Hagen stated that she simply reports, reacts, and dramatizes events.

Angelou became more “politicized” in The Heart of Woman, and developed a new sense of Black identity. As McPherson stated, even Angelou’s decision to leave show business was political.[144] McPherson also stated that this book was “a social and cultural history of Black Americans”[145] during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Angelou saw herself as a “personal historian”[146] of both the Civil Rights movement and the Black literary movement of the time. She became more attracted to the causes of Black militants, both in the U.S. and in Africa, to the point of entering into a relationship with South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make, and became more committed to activism. She became an active political protestor during this period, but she did not think of herself in that way. Instead, the focus was on herself, and she used the autobiographical form to demonstrate how the Civil Rights movement influenced one person involved in it. According to Hagen, her contributions to civil rights, as a fundraiser and SCLC organizer were successful and “eminently effective”.[147]

According to Lupton, “Angelou’s exploration of her African and African-American identities”[148] was an important theme in her fifth autobiography All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. The alliances and relationships with those she met in Ghana contributed to Angelou’s identity and growth.[149] Her experiences as an expatriate helped her come to terms with her personal and historical past, and by the end of the book she was ready to return to America with a deeper understanding of both the African and American parts of her character. McPherson called Angelou’s parallels and connections between Africa and America her “double-consciousness”,[150] which contribute to her understanding of herself.

In Traveling Shoes, Angelou was able to recognize similarities between African and African American culture; as Lupton put it, the “blue songs, shouts, and gospels” she has grown up with in America “echo the rhythms of West Africa”.[151] Angelou’s biographers, writing in A Glorious Celebration, the book published in 2008 for Angelou’s 80th birthday, agreed, stating that Angelou recognized the connections between African and American Black cultures, including the children’s games, the folklore, the spoken and non-verbal languages, the food, sensibilities, and behavior.[152] She connected the behavior of many African mother figures, especially their generosity, with her grandmother’s behaviors. In one of the most significant sections of Traveling Shoes, Angelou recounted an encounter with a West African woman who recognizes her, on the basis of her appearance, as a member of the Bambara group of West Africa. As Lupton stated, these and other experiences in Ghana demonstrated Angelou’s maturity, as a mother able to let go of her adult son, as a woman no longer dependent upon a man, and as an American able to “perceive the roots of her identity”[153] and how they affect her personality.

Also in Traveling Shoes, Angelou came to terms with her difficult past, both as a descendent of Africans taken forcibly to America as slaves and as an African-America who has experienced racism. As she tells an interviewer, she brought her son to Ghana to protect him from the negative effects of racism because she did not think he had the tools to withstand them.[154] For the first time in Angelou’s life, she did not “feel threatened by racial hate”[155] in Ghana. The theme of racism was still an important theme in Traveling Shoes, but she has matured in the way she dealt with it. As Hagen stated, Angelou was “not yet ready to toss off the stings of prejudice, but tolerance and even a certain understanding can be glimpsed”.[156] This was demonstrated in Angelou’s treatment of the “genocidal involvement of Africans in slave-trading”,[156] something that has often been overlooked or misrepresented by other Black writers. Angelou was taught an important lesson about combating racism by Malcolm X, who comparesdit to a mountain in which everyone’s efforts is needed.[157]

Angelou learned about herself and about racism throughout Traveling Shoes, even during her brief tour of Venice and Berlin for The Blacks revival. She revived her passion for African American culture while associating with other African Americans for the first time since moving to Ghana.[158] She compared her experiences of American racism with Germany’s history of racial prejudice and military aggression.[159] The verbal violence of the folk tales shared during her luncheon with her German hosts and Israeli friend was as significant to Angelou as physical violence, to the point that she beaome ill. Angelou’s first-hand experience with fascism, as well as the racist sensibilities of the German family she visited, “help shape and broaden her constantly changing vision”[160] regarding racial prejudice.

IdentityAccording to scholar Yolanda M. Manora, the theme of identity was established from the beginning of Angelou’s series of autobiographies, with the opening lines in Caged Bird, which “foretell Angelou’s autobiographical project: to write the story of the developing black female subject by sharing the tale of one Southern Black girl’s becoming”.[161] As feminist scholar Maria Lauret has indicated, Angelou and other female writers in the late 1960s and early 1970s used the autobiography to reimagine ways of writing about women’s lives and identities in a male-dominated society. Lauret has made a connection between Angelou’s autobiographies, which Lauret called “fictions of subjectivity” and “feminist first-person narratives”, and fictional first-person narratives (such as The Women’s Room by Marilyn French and The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing) written during the same period. Both genres employed the narrator as protagonist and used “the illusion of presence in their mode of signification”.[101] Manora agreed, stating that Angelou broke stereotypes of the African American women “by first establishing and then disrupting dominant images”[162] of the Black female, which set the stage for Angelou’s identity development in her later autobiographies.

When I try to describe myself to God I say, “Lord, remember me? Black? Female? Six-foot tall? The writer?” And I almost always get God’s attention.

Maya Angelou, 2008.[163]

Lauret has stated that “the formation of female cultural identity”[164] has been woven into Angelou’s narratives. Angelou has presented herself as a role model for African American women by reconstructing the Black woman’s image throughout her autobiographies, and has used her many roles, incarnations, and identities to “signify multiple layers of oppression and personal history”.[164] Lauret has viewed Angelou’s themes of the individual’s strength and ability to overcome throughout Angelou’s autobiographies as well.[164] Manora agreed, stating that the women Angelou presents in her autobiographies, especially Caged Bird, influenced the woman Angelou became. Three characters in Caged Bird, Angelou’s mother Vivian, her grandmother Annie Henderson, and Mrs. Flowers (who helps Angelou find her voice again after her rape}, collaborated to “form a triad which serves as the critical matrix in which the child is nurtured and sustained during her journey through Southern Black girlhood”.[165][note 9]

Author Hilton Als has insisted that while Angelou’s original goal was to “tell the truth about the lives of black women”,[39] her goal evolved in her later volumes to document the ups and downs of her own life. Als has stated that Angelou’s autobiographies had the same structure: a historical overview of the places she was living in at the time and how she coped within the context of a larger white society, as well as the ways that her story played out within that context. Critic Selwyn Cudjoe agreed with Als, and stated that Angelou, especially in her third autobiography, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, successfully demonstrated “the inviolability of the [African American] personhood”[135] as she increased positive interactions with whites. In Angelou’s second volume, Gather Together in My Name, Angelou was concerned with what it meant to be a black female in the U.S., but she focused upon herself at a certain point in history. As Cudjoe has said, “It is almost as though the incidents in the text were simply ‘gathered together’ under the name of Maya Angelou”.[168]

Family”Kinship concerns”,[169] from the character-defining experience of Angelou’s parents’ abandonment to her relationships with her son, husbands, and lovers are important in all of her books.[169] Scholar Mary Jane Lupton has stated that “the mother-child pattern”[170] was the only unifying theme that connected all of Angelou’s autobiographies. African American literature scholar Dolly McPherson has insisted that Angelou’s concept of family must be understood in the light of the way in which she and her older brother were displaced by their parents at the beginning ofCaged Bird.[171] Motherhood was a “prevailing theme”[83] in all of Angelou’s autobiographies, specifically her experiences as a single mother, a daughter, and a granddaughter.[83] Lupton believed that Angelou’s plot construction and character development were influenced by this mother/child motif found in the work of Harlem Renaissance poet Jessie Fauset.[172]

Scholar Yolanda M. Manora has insisted that three women in Caged Bird—the “hybridized mother”[173] of Angelou’s grandmother, her mother, and her friend Mrs. Flowers—taught her how to be a mother to her son Guy. Although Angelou’s grandmother died early in the series, in her third autobiography Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, Angelou quoted her many times throughout the series.[174] Angelou’s desire for security for Guy drove her to marry Tosh Angelos in Singin’ and Swingin’, and drove many of her decisions, job choices, and romantic relationships.[175] Koyana stated that due to Angelou’s race and economic background, her “experience of motherhood is inseparably intertwined with work”.[176] According to Koyana, “…Black motherhood always encompassed work”.[177] Angelou’s long list of occupations attested to the challenges, especially in her second autobiography Gather Together in My Name, she faced as a working teenager mother, which often led Angelou to “some quick and easy decisions”.[177] Koyana stated that it was not until Angelou was able to take advantage of opportunities such as her role in Porgy and Bess when she was able to fully support her and Guy, and the quality of her life and her contribution to society improved.[178] It was impossible, however, for Angelou to become successful without her extended family to provide childcare for her;[178] i.e., when she left Guy in the care of his grandmother in spite of the conflict and guilt she experienced as a result (something Koyana insisted was imposed on her by the larger society),[179] a pattern established in Caged Bird by her own mother when she left Angelou and her brother in the care of Angelou’s grandmother.[178]

The woman who survives intact and happy must be at once tender and tough.

Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now (1993) [180]

Scholar Mary Burgher has stated that Black women autobiographers like Angelou have debunked the stereotypes of African American mothers of “breeder and matriarch” and have presented them as having “a creative and personally fulfilling role”.[181] Scholar Sondra O’Neale agreed, and insisted that Angelou’s autobiographies presented Black women differently than literature had portrayed them up to that time. O’Neale stated that “no Black woman in the world of Angelou’s books are losers”,[182] and that Angelou was the third generation of “brilliantly resourceful females” who overcame the obstacles of racism and oppression.[182] African American literature professor Siphokazi Koyana recognized that Angelou depicted women, which Koyana called her “womanist theories”,[176] in an era of cultural transition, and that her books described one Black woman’s “attempt to forge and maintain a healthy sense of self”.[176] Angelou’s experiences as a working-class single mother, Koyana insisted, challenged traditional and Western viewpoints of women and family life,[176] and that Angelou’s autobiographies were “a powerful attack on the nuclear family structure”.[178] Koyana went on to state that Angelou was describing societal forces that eventually expanded to the white family, and that Angelou’s strategies of economic survival and experiences of family structure enabled Black families “to survive the harsh economic realities”.[183]

Awards and honorsMain article: List of awards and nominations received by Maya Angelou
Angelou is one of the most honored writers of her generation. She has been honored by universities, literary organizations, government agencies, and special interest groups. Her honors have included a National Book Award nomination for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her book of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie,[5] a Tony Award nomination for her role in the 1973 play Look Away, and three Grammys for her spoken word albums.[184][185] In 1995, Angelou’s publishing company, Random House, recognized her for having the longest-running record (two years) on The New York Times Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller List.[186] She has served on two presidential committees,[187] and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2000,[188] the Lincoln Medal in 2008,[189] and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.[190] Angelou has been awarded over thirty honorary degrees.[191]

ReferencesFootnotes1.^ In her fifth autobiography All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1987), Angelou recounts being identified, on the basis of her appearance, as part of the Bambara people, a subset of the Mande (Angelou 1987, pp. 206—207).
2.^ According to Angelou, Annie Henderson built her business with food stalls catering to Black workers, which eventually developed into a store.[15]
3.^ Reviewer John M. Miller calls Angelou’s performance of her song, “All That Happens in the Marketplace” the “most genuine musical moment in the film”.
4.^ Guy Johnson, who as a result of this accident in Accra and one in the late 1960s, underwent a series of spinal surgeries. He also, like his mother, became a writer and poet.[46]
5.^ Angelou called her friendship with Malcolm X “a brother/sister relationship”.[51]
6.^ Angelou did not celebrate her birthday for many years, choosing instead to send flowers to King’s widow Coretta Scott King.

7.^ Angelou dedicated her 1993 book of essays Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now to Winfrey 8.^ In Angelou’s essay, “My Grandson, Home at Last”, published in Woman’s Day in 1986, she describes the kidnapping and her response to it.[67]
9.^ Manora categorized these women into three archetypes, which represented the Black woman in Angelou’s autobiographies: Vivian as “the Black Jezebel”,[166] Annie as the “Black Matriarch”,[165] and Mrs. Flowers as “the Lady”.

Posted February 21, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Novelist / Poet

Henry Louis Gates, American Literary Critic   Leave a comment


Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr., (born September 16, 1950) is an American literary critic, educator, scholar, writer, editor, and public intellectual. He was the first African American to receive the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship. He has received numerous honorary degrees and awards for his teaching, research, and development of academic institutions to study black culture. In 2002, Gates was selected to give the Jefferson Lecture, in recognition of his “distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities”.

Gates has hosted several PBS television miniseries, including the history and travel program Wonders of the African World and the biographical African American Lives and Faces of America. Gates sits on the boards of many notable arts, cultural, and research institutions. He serves as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, where he is director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.

  Early years

Gates was born in Keyser, West Virginia, to Pauline Augusta Coleman and Henry Louis Gates, Sr. He grew up in neighboring Piedmont, his hometown described in his best-selling memoir Colored People.

At the age of 14, Gates was injured while playing touch football, fracturing the ball and socket joint of his hip, resulting in a slipped epiphysis. The injury was misdiagnosed by a physician who told Gates’s mother that his problem was psychosomatic. When the physical damage finally healed, Gates’ right leg was two inches shorter than his left. Because of the injury, Gates uses a cane to help him walk.[1][2]

Gates graduated from Piedmont High School in 1968 and attended Potomac State College in Keyser, West Virginia. He went on to complete his undergraduate B.A. degree at Yale University, summa cum laude, in History. The first African American to be awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship, the day after his undergraduate commencement, Gates set sail on the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 for England and the University of Cambridge. There he studied English literature at Clare College.

  Marriage and family

Gates married Sharon Lynn Adams in 1979.[3] They had two daughters.[4] They later divorced.[citation needed]

  Career

After a month at Yale Law School, Gates withdrew from the program. In October 1975 he was hired by Charles T. Davis as a secretary in the Afro-American Studies department at Yale. In July 1976, Gates was promoted to the post of Lecturer in Afro-American Studies with the understanding that he would be promoted to Assistant Professor upon completion of his dissertation. Jointly appointed to assistant professorships in English and Afro-American Studies in 1979, Gates was promoted to Associate Professor in 1984.

After being denied tenure at Yale, Gates accepted a position at Cornell University in 1985, where he taught until 1989. After a two-year stay at Duke University, he was recruited to Harvard University in 1991. At Harvard, Gates teaches undergraduate and graduate courses as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, an endowed chair he was appointed to in 2006, and as Professor of English.[5] Additionally, he serves as the Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.

As a literary theorist and critic, Gates has combined literary techniques of deconstruction with native African literary traditions; he draws on structuralism, post-structuralism, and semiotics to textual analysis and matters of identity politics. As a black intellectual and public figure, Gates has been an outspoken critic of the Eurocentric literary canon. He has insisted that black literature must be evaluated by the aesthetic criteria of its culture of origin, not criteria imported from Western or European cultural traditions that express a “tone deafness to the black cultural voice” and result in “intellectual racism.”[2] In his major scholarly work, The Signifying Monkey, a 1989 American Book Award winner, Gates expressed what might constitute a black cultural aesthetic. The work extended application of the concept of “signifyin(g)” to analysis of African-American works; it thus rooted African-American literary criticism in the African-American vernacular tradition.

While Gates has stressed the need for greater recognition of black literature and black culture, he does not advocate a “separatist” black canon. Rather, he works for greater recognition of black works and their integration into a larger, pluralistic canon. He has affirmed the value of the Western tradition, but has envisioned a more inclusive canon of diverse works sharing common cultural connections:

Every black American text must confess to a complex ancestry, one high and low (that is, literary and vernacular) but also one white and black…there can be no doubt that white texts inform and influence black texts (and vice versa), so that a thoroughly integrated canon of American literature is not only politically sound, it is intellectually sound as well.[2]

Gates has argued that a separatist, Afrocentric education perpetuates racist stereotypes. He maintains that it is “ridiculous” to think that only blacks should be scholars of African and African-American literature. He argues,

“It can’t be real as a subject if you have to look like the subject to be an expert in the subject,”[6] adding, “It’s as ridiculous as if someone said I couldn’t appreciate Shakespeare because I’m not Anglo-Saxon. I think it’s vulgar and racist whether it comes out of a black mouth or a white mouth.”[7]

Supporters of Afrocentrics such as Molefi Asante and others say that they assert not that the study of Africa should be exclusively Black, but that the approach of Afrocentricity is critical for setting up black people as agents of their own history.[8][9]

As a mediator between those advocating separatism and those who believe in a fixed Western canon, Gates has been criticized by both. Some critics suggest that adding black literature will diminish the value of the Western canon, while separatists say that Gates is too accommodating to the dominant white culture in his advocacy of integration of the canon.[citation needed] Gates is occasionally criticized as non-representative, and a detractor, of Black people by such African-American spokesmen as John Henrik Clarke, Molefi Asante and Maulana Karenga.[10][11][12]

As a literary historian committed to the preservation and study of historical texts, Gates has been integral to the Black Periodical Literature Project, an archive of black newspapers and magazines created with financial assistance from the National Endowment for the Humanities.[13] To build Harvard’s visual, documentary, and literary archives of African-American texts, Gates arranged for the purchase of The Image of the Black in Western Art, a collection assembled by Dominique de Ménil in Houston, Texas.

As a result of research as a MacArthur Fellow, Gates discovered Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson, written in 1859 and thus the first novel in the United States written by a black person. He acquired and authenticated the manuscript of The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts, a novel from the same period that scholars believe may have been written as early as 1853. It would have precedence as the first known novel written by a black person in the United States. (Note: Clotel, or the President’s Daughter (1853) is recognized as the first novel published by an African American, but William Wells Brown wrote and published it in London.) The Bondwoman’s Narrative was first published in 2002 and became a bestseller.

As a prominent black intellectual, Gates has concentrated on building academic institutions to study black culture. Additionally, he has worked to bring about social, educational, and intellectual equality for black Americans. His writing includes pieces in The New York Times that defend rap music, and an article in Sports Illustrated that criticizes black youth culture for glorifying basketball over education. In 1992, he received a George Polk Award for his social commentary in The New York Times. Gates’s prominence has led to his being called as a witness on behalf of the controversial Florida rap group 2 Live Crew in an obscenity case. He argued that the material which the government charged was profane, had important roots in African-American vernacular speech, games, and literary traditions, and should be protected.

Asked by NEH Chairman Bruce Cole to describe his work, Gates responded, “I would say I’m a literary critic. That’s the first descriptor that comes to mind. After that I would say I was a teacher. Both would be just as important.”[6] After his 2003 NEH lecture, Gates published his 2003 book, The Trials of Phillis Wheatley.

   Other activities

In 1995 Gates presented a programme in the BBC series Great Railway Journeys (produced in association with PBS). The programme documents a 3000-mile journey Gates took through Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania, with his then wife Sharon Adams and daughters Liza and Meggie Gates (born 1994). This trip came 25 years after Gates worked at a hospital in Kilimatinde near Dar es Salaam, Tanzania as a 19-year-old pre-medical student at Yale University.[14]

Gates was the host and co-producer of African American Lives (2006) and African American Lives 2 (2008) in which the lineage of more than a dozen notable African Americans is traced using genealogical and historic resources, as well as DNA testing. In the first series, Gates learned that he had more than 50 percent European ancestry, and was descended from the mulatto John Redman.[15] In addition, he discussed findings with guests about their complex ancestries.[15]

In the second series of episodes, Gates learned that he is part of a genetic subgroup possibly descended from or related to the 4th-century Irish king, Niall of the Nine Hostages. He also learned that his ancestors included the Yoruba people of Nigeria. The two series demonstrated the many strands of heritage and history among African Americans.

Gates hosted Faces of America, a four-part series presented by PBS in 2010. This program examined the genealogy of 12 North Americans of diverse ancestry: Elizabeth Alexander, Mario Batali, Stephen Colbert, Louise Erdrich, Malcolm Gladwell, Eva Longoria, Yo-Yo Ma, Mike Nichols, Queen Noor, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Meryl Streep, and Kristi Yamaguchi

Since 1995, Gates has served as the jury chair for the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, which honor written works that contribute to society’s understanding of racism and the diversity of human culture. Gates was an Anisfield-Wolf prize winner in 1989 for The Schomburg Library of Women Writers.

  “Ending the Slavery Blame-Game” editorial

In 2010, Gates wrote an editorial in The New York Times which discussed the role played by Africans in the slave trade.[16] In an article for Newsweek, journalist Lisa Miller reported on the reaction to the editorial:

The enemy of individuality is groupthink, Gates says, and here he holds everyone accountable. Recently, he has enraged many of his colleagues in the African-American studies field–especially those campaigning for government reparations for slavery–by insistently reminding them, as he did in a New York Times op-ed last year, that the folks who captured and sold blacks into slavery in the first place were also Africans, working for profit. “People wanted to kill me, man,” Gates says of the reaction to that op-ed. “Black people were so angry at me. But we need to get some distance from the binary opposition we were raised in: evil white people and good black people. The world just isn’t like that.”

Gates’s critics say he’s a provocateur and publicity hound, stretched too thin and puffed up by his celebrity friends. Lolita Buckner Inniss, a professor at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, wrote a letter to The New York Times in response to the Gates piece in which she pointed out the obvious. No matter who did the capturing, it was white people who created the market for African slaves and perpetuated the practice even after the import trade was banned. “My first thought was, he’s kidding, right?” she told me. “Up until that recent piece, people would have thought of him as someone who took a cautious and nuanced approach to questions like reparations.” Gates has such an eminent reputation, she said, and “so much gravitas. Many of us were troubled.”[17]

The editorial begins and ends with the observation that it is very difficult to decide whether or not to give reparations to the descendants of American slaves, in other words whether they should receive compensation for their ancestors’ unpaid labor and bondage. Gates also points out that it is equally difficult to decide who should get these reparations and who should pay them.

 Cambridge arrest

Main article: Henry Louis Gates arrest controversy

On July 16, 2009, Gates returned home from a trip to China to find the door to his house jammed. His driver attempted to help him gain entrance. A passer-by called police reporting a possible break-in after seeing windows being broken. A Cambridge police officer was dispatched. The resulting confrontation resulted in Gates being arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Prosecutors later dropped the charges.[18] The incident spurred a politically charged exchange of views about race relations and law enforcement throughout the United States. The arrest garnered national attention after U.S. President Barack Obama declared that the police “acted stupidly” in arresting Gates, a comment which drew criticism from Massachusetts residents and from many law enforcement communities. The President eventually extended an invitation to both Gates and the officer involved to share a beer with him at the White House.[19]

On March 9, 2010, Gates claimed on the Oprah Winfrey Show that he and Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer in the Cambridge incident, share a common ancestor, an ancient Irish king.

[edit] Awards and honors

  • Gates has been the recipient of 51 honorary degrees and numerous academic and social action awards.
  • Gates was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1981.
  • He was listed in Time among its “25 Most Influential Americans” in 1997. Ebony Magazine listed him among its “100 Most Influential Black Americans” in 2005, and in 2009, Ebony included him on its “Power 150” list.
  • In 2002 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Gates for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities.[20] Gates’s lecture was entitled “Mister Jefferson and the Trials of Phillis Wheatley.”[21] It was the basis of his later book The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America’s First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers (2003).[22]
  • Gates received the National Humanities Medal in 1998 and the 2008 Ralph Lowell Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the highest honor in the field of public television, in 2009. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1999.
  • On October 23, 2006, Gates was appointed the Alphonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor at Harvard University. He has been the Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research since arriving at Harvard in 1991.
  • In January 2008, he co-founded The Root, a website dedicated to African-American perspectives and published by The Washington Post Company.
  • Gates serves as the Chair for the Selection Committee for the Alphonse Fletcher, Sr., Fellowship Program, sponsored by the Fletcher Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Fletcher Asset Management.
  • He is on the boards of many notable institutions including the New York Public Library, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Aspen Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Studio Museum of Harlem, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, HEAF (the Harlem Educational Activities Fund), and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, located in Stanford, California.[5] He is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations.
  • In 2006, Gates was inducted into the Sons of the American Revolution after tracing his lineage back to John Redman, a free African American who fought in the Revolutionary War.[15]
  • In 2010, Gates became the first African American to have his genome fully sequenced. He is also half of the first father-son pair to have their genomes fully sequenced. Knome performed the analysis as part of the “Faces of America” project.

Posted February 19, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Novelist / Poet

Dr. Cornell West, Civil Rights Leader   1 comment


Cornel Ronald West (born June 2, 1953) is an American philosopher, author, critic, actor, civil rights activist and prominent member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

West is a 1973 graduate of Harvard University and starting 2012 will be a Professor at Union Theological Seminary,[1] where he will teach Religious Philosophy and Christian Practice. He currently teaches at Princeton University. West is known for his combination of political and moral insight and criticism and his contribution to the post-1960s civil rights movement. The bulk of his work focuses on the role of race, gender, and class in American society and the means by which people act and react to their “radical conditionedness.” West draws intellectual contributions from such diverse traditions as the African American Baptist Church, pragmatism and transcendentalism.[2][3][4][5]

Early life

West was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma,[6] and grew up in Sacramento, California, where his father was a general contractor for the Defense Department and his mother was a teacher and a principal. Irene B. West Elementary School, Elk Grove, California, is named for her.[7] As a young man, West marched in civil rights demonstrations and organized protests demanding black studies courses at his high school, where he was class president. He later wrote that, in his youth, he admired “the sincere black militancy of Malcolm X, the defiant rage of the Black Panther Party […] and the livid black theology of James Cone.”[8] In 1970, after graduating from John F. Kennedy High School, he enrolled at Harvard University and took classes from philosophers Robert Nozick and Stanley Cavell. In 1973, he graduated magna cum laude in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. “Owing to my family, church, and the black social movements of the 1960s”, he says, “I arrived at Harvard unashamed of my African, Christian, and militant de-colonized outlooks. More pointedly, I acknowledged and accented the empowerment of my black styles, mannerisms, and viewpoints, my Christian values of service, love, humility, and struggle, and my anti-colonial sense of self-determination for oppressed people and nations around the world.”[9]

 Career

Academic appointments

In 1980, West earned a Ph.D. from Princeton, where he was influenced by Richard Rorty‘s pragmatism.[10] The title of his dissertation was Ethics, historicism and the Marxist tradition,[11] which was later revised and published under the title The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought.[10]

In his mid-20s, he returned to Harvard as a W. E. B. Du Bois Fellow before becoming an Assistant Professor at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. In 1984, he went to Yale Divinity School in what eventually became a joint appointment in American Studies. While at Yale, he participated in campus protests for a clerical labor union and divestment from apartheid South Africa. One of the protests resulted in him being arrested and jailed. As punishment, the University administration canceled his leave for Spring 1987, leading him to commute from Yale in New Haven, Connecticut, where he was teaching two classes, across the Atlantic Ocean to the University of Paris.[12]

He then returned to Union for one year before going to Princeton to become a Professor of Religion and Director of the Program in African-American Studies (1988–94).[12]

He then accepted an appointment as Professor of African-American Studies at Harvard University, with a joint appointment at the Harvard Divinity School.[13] West taught one of the University’s most popular courses, an introductory class on African-American Studies.[14] In 1998, he was appointed the first Alphonse Fletcher University Professor.[15] West used this freedom to teach not only in African-American studies, but in Divinity, Religion, and Philosophy.[13] West returned to Princeton in 2001.[16] In 2011, he announced his return to the seminary where he had started his teaching career.[17]

The recipient of more than 20 honorary degrees and an American Book Award,[2] West is a long-time member of the Democratic Socialists of America, for which he now serves as Honorary Chair.[12] He is also a co-founder of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.[18] West is on the Advisory Board of the International Bridges to Justice.[19]

West is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He is a member of the fraternity’s World Policy Council, a think tank whose purpose is to expand Alpha Phi Alpha’s involvement in politics and social and current policy to encompass international concerns.[20]

Critics, most notably The New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier, have charged him with opportunism, crass showmanship, and lack of scholarly seriousness.[21]

West remains a widely cited scholar in the popular press.[22]

 Entertainment career

West appears in both The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions,[23] playing Councilor West, who serves on the council of Zion. West’s character advises that “comprehension is not a requisite of cooperation.”[23] In addition, West provides philosophical commentary on all three Matrix films in The Ultimate Matrix Collection, along with integral theorist Ken Wilber.[24]

Cornel West has also made several appearances in documentary films, such as the 2008 film Examined Life, a documentary featuring several academics discussing philosophy in real-world contexts. West, “driving through Manhattan, . . . compares philosophy to jazz and blues, reminding us how intense and invigorating a life of the mind can be.”[25] He also appears in conversation with Bill Withers in the Bill Withers documentary, Still Bill. West also makes frequent appearances on the political talk show Real Time with Bill Maher.[26][27][28][29][30]

A character based on West and events in his career appeared in the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode Anti-Thesis, significant for introducing the recurring villain character Nicole Wallace.[31]

On the musical front, West recorded a recitation of John Mellencamp‘s song “Jim Crow” for inclusion on the singer’s box set On the Rural Route 7609 in 2009.[32] In 2010, he completed recording with the Cornel West Theory, a Hip Hop band endorsed by West.[32] He has also released two hip-hop/soul/spoken word albums, one under “Cornel West” (entitled Street Knowledge), the other under “Cornel West & BMWMB (Black Men Who Mean Business)” (entitled Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations).[33]

 Dispute with Lawrence Summers

In 2000, economist and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers became president of Harvard. In a private meeting with West, Summers allegedly rebuked West for missing too many classes, contributing to grade inflation, neglecting serious scholarship, and spending too much time on his economically profitable projects.[34] Summers allegedly suggested that West produce an academic book befitting his professorial position. West had written several books, some of them widely cited, but his recent output consisted primarily of co-written and edited volumes. According to some reports, Summers also objected to West’s production of a CD, the critically panned Sketches of My Culture, and to his political campaigning.[35] According to West’s book Democracy Matters, Summers wrongly accused him of canceling classes for three straight weeks during 2000 to promote Bill Bradley‘s presidential campaign. West contends that he had missed one class during his tenure at Harvard “in order to give a keynote address at a Harvard-sponsored conference on AIDS.” Summers also allegedly suggested that since West held the rank of Harvard University Professor and thus reported directly to the President, he should meet with Summers regularly to discuss the progress of his academic production.[36]

West contends that popular coverage of the controversy obscured the true issues at stake in his dispute with Summers. West argues that Summers’s vision of academia is corrosive to a deep democratic commitment that strives to connect the academy with society at large, so as to fulfill its calling to educate the public. He contends that the controversy with Summers was indicative of the fact that “a market-driven technocratic culture has infiltrated university life, with the narrow pursuit of academic trophies and the business of generating income from grants and business partnerships taking precedence over the fundamental responsibility of nurturing young minds.” [37] According to West, during the controversy he was highly regarded in the academic community, “had more academic references than fourteen of the other seventeen Harvard University Professors”, and “had nearly twice as many such references as Summers himself.”[37] At the time, West had been focused on reaching wider audiences as part of his effort to encourage civic engagement—especially amongst youth—in the hope of revitalizing what he calls a deep democratic commitment that would counteract the encroaching political nihilism that he argues threatens the future of American democracy. While West doesn’t deny the importance of academics engaging the more specialized concerns of their fields, he strongly opposes the sentiment that academia must limit itself to those rarefied interests. Academia and academics, he contends, have an important role to play in promoting public discourse that cannot be achieved if professors lock themselves in their ivory towers instead of engaging society-at-large and the salient issues of the day. Ultimately, this was the root of the quarrel, according to West.[37]

Summers refused to comment on the details of his conversation with West, except to express hope that West would remain at Harvard. Soon after, West was hospitalized for prostate cancer. West complained that Summers failed to send him get-well wishes until weeks after his surgery, whereas newly installed Princeton president Shirley Tilghman had contacted him frequently before and after his treatment.[36] In 2002 West left Harvard University to return to Princeton. West lashed out at Summers in public interviews, calling him “the Ariel Sharon of higher education” on NPR’s Tavis Smiley Show.[38] In response to these remarks, five Princeton faculty members, led by professor of molecular biology Jacques Robert Fresco, said they looked with “strong disfavor upon his characterization” of Summers and that “such an analogy carries innuendoes and implications… that many on the Princeton faculty find highly inappropriate, indeed repugnant and intolerable.”[39]

Harvard University‘s undergraduate student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, suggested in October 2002 that the premise of Law and Order: Criminal Intent episode “Anti-Thesis” was based on West’s conflicts with Summers.[40]

Activism

Views on race in the United States

West has called the U.S. a “racist patriarchal” nation where “white supremacy” continues to define everyday life. “White America,” he writes, “has been historically weak-willed in ensuring racial justice and has continued to resist fully accepting the humanity of blacks.” This has resulted, he claims, in the creation of many “degraded and oppressed people hungry for identity, meaning, and self-worth.” Professor West attributes most of the black community’s problems to “existential angst derive[d] from the lived experience of ontological wounds and emotional scars inflicted by white supremacist beliefs and images permeating U.S. society and culture.”[41]

In West’s view, the September 11, 2001 attacks gave white Americans a glimpse of what it means to be a black person in the United States—feeling “unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence, and hatred” for who they are.[42] “The ugly terrorist attacks on innocent civilians on 9/11,” he said, “plunged the whole country into the blues.”[42]

 Politics

West has described himself as a “non-Marxist socialist” (partly because he cannot reconcile Marxism with Christianity)[43] and serves as honorary chair of the Democratic Socialists of America, which he has described as “the first multiracial, socialist organization close enough to my politics that I could join”.[12] He also described himself as a “radical democrat, suspicious of all forms of authority” on the Matrix-themed documentary The Burly Man Chronicles.[44]

West believes that “the overthrow of Saddam Hussein‘s ugly totalitarian regime was desirable,”[45] but that the war in Iraq was the result of “dishonest manipulation” on the part of the Bush administration.[46] He asserts that Bush Administration hawks “are not simply conservative elites and right-wing ideologues”, but rather are “evangelical nihilists — drunk with power and driven by grand delusions of American domination of the world”. He adds, “We are [now] experiencing the sad gangsterization of America, an unbridled grasp at power, wealth, and status.” Viewing capitalism as the root cause of these alleged American lusts, West warns, “Free-market fundamentalism trivializes the concern for public interest. It puts fear and insecurity in the hearts of anxiety-ridden workers. It also makes money-driven, poll-obsessed elected officials deferential to corporate goals of profit — often at the cost of the common good.”[47]

West has been involved with such projects as the Million Man March and Russell Simmons‘s Hip-Hop Summit, and worked with such public figures as Louis Farrakhan[6] and Al Sharpton, whose 2004 presidential campaign West advised.[48]

In 2000, West worked as a senior advisor to Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley. When Bradley lost in the primaries, West became a prominent endorser of Ralph Nader, even speaking at some Nader rallies. Some Greens sought to draft West to run as a presidential candidate in 2004. West declined, citing his active participation in the Al Sharpton campaign. West, along with other prominent Nader 2000 supporters, signed the “Vote to Stop Bush” statement urging progressive voters in swing states to vote for John Kerry, despite strong disagreements with many of Kerry’s policies.[49]

In April 2002 West and Rabbi Michael Lerner performed civil disobedience by sitting in the street in front of the U.S. State Department “in solidarity with suffering Palestinian and Israeli brothers and sisters.” West said, “We must keep in touch with the humanity of both sides.”[50][51] In May 2007 West joined a demonstration against “injustices faced by the Palestinian people resulting from the Israeli occupation” and “to bring attention to this 40 year travesty of justice”. In 2011, West called on the University of Arizona to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories.[52]

West also serves as co-chair of the Tikkun Community. He co-chaired the National Parenting Organization’s Task Force on Parent Empowerment and participated in President Clinton‘s National Conversation on Race. He has publicly endorsed In These Times magazine by calling it: “The most creative and challenging news magazine of the American left”. He is also a contributing editor for Sojourners Magazine.

West supports People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in its Kentucky Fried Cruelty campaign, aimed at eliminating what PETA describes as KFC‘s inhumane treatment of chickens. West is quoted on PETA flyers: “Although most people don’t know chickens as well as they know cats and dogs, chickens are interesting individuals with personalities and interests every bit as developed as the dogs and cats with whom many of us share our lives.”

In 2008, West contributed his insights on the current global issue of modernized slavery and human trafficking in the rockumentary Call+Response.[53] West is a member of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy.

In 2011, West addressed his frustration about some critics of the Occupy Wall Street, who remark about the movement’s lack of a clear and unified message. West replied by saying:

It’s impossible to translate the issue of the greed of Wall Street into one demand, or two demands. We’re talking about a democratic awakening…you’re talking about raising political consciousness so it spills over all parts of the country, so people can begin to see what’s going on through a set of different lens, and then you begin to highlight what the more detailed demands would be. Because in the end we’re really talking about what Martin King would call a revolution: A transfer of power from oligarchs to everyday people of all colors. And that is a step by step process.[54]

On October 16, 2011, West was in Washington, D.C. participating in the “Occupy D.C.” protests on the steps of the Supreme Court, holding a sign reading “Poverty is the Greatest Violence of All”. He was subsequently arrested for violating a law against protest signs on the Supreme Court steps.[55]

Five days later, on October 21, 2011, West was arrested during a protest in Harlem against the New York Police Department’s policy of stopping and frisking.[56]

On October 26, 2011, West was participating in Occupy Norfolk in Norfolk, VA.

Support and Criticism of Obama

Cornel West publicly supported 2008 Democratic Presidential candidate then US Senator Barack Obama. He spoke to over 1,000 of his supporters at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, N.Y.C. on November 29, 2007.[57]

West criticized President Obama when Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, saying that it would be difficult for Obama to be “a war president with a peace prize.”[58] West further retracted his support for Obama in an April 2011 interview, stating that Obama is “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats. And now he has become head of the American killing machine and is proud of it.”[59][60]

 Published works

  • Black Theology and Marxist Thought (1979)
  • Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity (1982)
  • Prophetic Fragments (1988)
  • The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism (1989)
  • Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life (with bell hooks, 1991)
  • The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought (1991)
  • Beyond Eurocentrism and Multiculturalism (1993)
  • Race Matters (1993)
  • Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America (1994)
  • Jews and Blacks: A Dialogue on Race, Religion, and Culture in America (with rabbi Michael Lerner, 1995)
  • The Future of the Race (with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 1996)
  • Restoring Hope: Conversations on the Future of Black America (1997)
  • The War Against Parents: What We Can Do For America’s Beleaguered Moms and Dads (with Sylvia Ann Hewlett, 1998)
  • The Future of American Progressivism (with Roberto Unger, 1998)
  • The African-American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Century (with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 2000)
  • Cornel West: A Critical Reader (George Yancy, editor) (2001)
  • Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism (2004)
  • Commentary on The Matrix, Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions; see The Ultimate Matrix Collection (with Ken Wilber, 2004).
  • Post-Analytic Philosophy, edited with John Rajchman.
  • Hope On a Tightrope: Words & Wisdom (2008).
  • Brother West: Living & Loving Out Loud (2009).

Posted February 19, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Civil Rights, Novelist / Poet

Tony Morrison, Novelist, Poet, Pulitizer Prize Winner   Leave a comment


Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford;[1] February 18, 1931) is an American novelist, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters. Among her best known novels are The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon and Beloved. She also was commissioned to write the libretto for a new opera, Margaret Garner, first performed in 2005. She won the Nobel Prize in 1993 and in 1987 the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved.

 Early life and career

Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio to Ramah (née Willis) and George Wofford. She is the second of four children in a working-class family.[2] As a child, Morrison read fervently; among her favorite authors were Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. Morrison’s father told her numerous folktales of the black community (a method of storytelling that would later work its way into Morrison’s writings).[3]

In 1949 Morrison entered Howard University, where she received a B.A. in English in 1953. She earned a Master of Arts degree in English from Cornell University in 1955, for which she wrote a thesis on suicide in the works of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf.[4] After graduation, Morrison became an English instructor at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas (1955–57), then returned to Howard to teach English. She became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

In 1958 she married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect and fellow faculty member at Howard University. They had two children, Harold and Slade, and divorced in 1964. After the divorce she moved to Syracuse, New York, where she worked as a textbook editor. A year and a half later, she went to work as an editor at the New York City headquarters of Random House.[4] As an editor, Morrison played a vital role in bringing black literature into the mainstream, editing books by authors such as Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, and Gayl Jones.[5]

[edit] Writing career

Toni Morrison at the Miami Book Fair International of 1986

Morrison began writing fiction as part of an informal group of poets and writers at Howard who met to discuss their work. She went to one meeting with a short story about a black girl who longed to have blue eyes. She later developed the story as her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970). She wrote it while raising two children and teaching at Howard.[4] In 2000 it was chosen as a selection for Oprah’s Book Club.[6]

In 1975 her novel Sula (1973) was nominated for the National Book Award. Her third novel, Song of Solomon (1977), brought her national attention. The book was a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, the first novel by a black writer to be so chosen since Richard Wright‘s Native Son in 1940. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

In 1987 Morrison’s novel Beloved became a critical success. When the novel failed to win the National Book Award as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award, a number of writers protested over the omission.[4][7] Shortly afterward, it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the American Book Award. That same year, Morrison took a visiting professorship at Bard College.

Beloved was adapted into the 1998 film of the same name starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. Morrison later used Margaret Garner‘s life story again in the libretto for a new opera, Margaret Garner, with music by Richard Danielpour. In May 2006, The New York Times Book Review named Beloved the best American novel published in the previous twenty-five years.

Toni Morrison, on jacket of her Pulitzer Prize winning novel Beloved.

In 1993 Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her citation reads: Toni Morrison, “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” She is currently the last American to have been awarded the honor. Shortly afterward, a fire destroyed her Rockland County, New York home.[2][8]

In 1996 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Morrison for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities.[9] Morrison’s lecture, entitled “The Future of Time: Literature and Diminished Expectations,”[10] began with the aphorism, “Time, it seems, has no future.” She cautioned against the misuse of history to diminish expectations of the future.[11]

Morrison was honored with the 1996 National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, which is awarded to a writer “who has enriched our literary heritage over a life of service, or a corpus of work.”[12]

Although her novels typically concentrate on black women, Morrison does not identify her works as feminist.[13] She has stated that she thinks “it’s off-putting to some readers, who may feel that I’m involved in writing some kind of feminist tract. I don’t subscribe to patriarchy, and I don’t think it should be substituted with matriarchy. I think it’s a question of equitable access, and opening doors to all sorts of things.”[13]

In addition to her novels, Morrison has also co-written books for children with her younger son, Slade Morrison, who worked as a painter and musician. Slade died on December 22, 2010, aged 45.[14]

[edit] Later life

Morrison taught English at two branches of the State University of New York. In 1984 she was appointed to an Albert Schweitzer chair at the University at Albany, The State University of New York. From 1989 until her retirement in 2006, Morrison held the Robert F. Goheen Chair in the Humanities at Princeton University.[3]

Though based in the Creative Writing Program at Princeton, Morrison did not regularly offer writing workshops to students after the late 1990s, a fact that earned her some criticism. Rather, she has conceived and developed the prestigious Princeton Atelier, a program that brings together talented students with critically acclaimed, world-famous artists. Together the students and the artists produce works of art that are presented to the public after a semester of collaboration. In her position at Princeton, Morrison used her insights to encourage not merely new and emerging writers, but artists working to develop new forms of art through interdisciplinary play and cooperation.

At its 1979 commencement ceremonies, Barnard College awarded her its highest honor, the Barnard Medal of Distinction. Oxford University awarded her an honorary Doctor of Letters degree in June 2005.

In November 2006, Morrison visited the Louvre Museum in Paris as the second in its “Grand Invité” program to guest-curate a month-long series of events across the arts on the theme of “The Foreigner’s Home.” Inspired by her curatorship, Morrison returned to Princeton in Fall 2008 to lead a small seminar, also entitled “The Foreigner’s Home.”

In May 2010, Morrison appeared at PEN World Voices for a conversation with Marlene van Niekerk and Kwame Anthony Appiah about South African literature, and specifically, van Niekerk’s novel, Agaat.[15]

In May 2011, Morrison received an Honorable Doctor of Letters Degree from Rutgers University during commencement where she delivered a speech of the “pursuit of life, liberty, meaningfulness, integrity, and truth”.

She is currently a member of the editorial board of The Nation magazine.

[edit] Politics

Graffiti of Toni Morrison in the city of Vitoria, in Spain

In writing about the impeachment in 1998, Morrison wrote that, since Whitewater, Bill Clinton had been mistreated because of his “Blackness”:

Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.[16]

The phrase “our first Black president” was adopted as a positive by Bill Clinton supporters. When the Congressional Black Caucus honored the former president at its dinner in Washington D.C. on September 29, 2001, for instance, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the chair, told the audience that Clinton “took so many initiatives he made us think for a while we had elected the first black president.”[17]

In the context of the 2008 Democratic Primary campaign, Morrison stated to Time magazine: “People misunderstood that phrase. I was deploring the way in which President Clinton was being treated, vis-à-vis the sex scandal that was surrounding him. I said he was being treated like a black on the street, already guilty, already a perp. I have no idea what his real instincts are, in terms of race.”[18] In the Democratic primary contest for the 2008 presidential race, Morrison endorsed Senator Barack Obama over Senator Hillary Clinton,[19] though expressing admiration and respect for the latter.[20]

[edit] Works

[edit] Novels

[edit] Children’s literature (with Slade Morrison)

  • The Big Box (1999)
  • The Book of Mean People (2002)

[edit] Short fiction

[edit] Plays

[edit] Libretti

[edit] Non-fiction

  • The Black Book (1974)
  • Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992)
  • Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality (editor) (1992)
  • Birth of a Nation’hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O.J. Simpson Case (co-editor) (1997)
  • Remember: The Journey to School Integration (April 2004)
  • What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction, edited by Carolyn C. Denard (April 2008)
  • Burn This Book: Essay Anthology, editor (2009)

Posted February 17, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Novelist / Poet