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Wednesday, 5 June, 2002, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Angelou's rainbow of poetry
Dr Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou thrilled her audience at the Hay Festival

She stood like a colossus, bestriding the stage at the Hay Literature Festival, telling a rapt audience that the world does not talk enough about romance.

Maya Angelou's theme for the keynote lecture of this year's festival in the Welsh border town, was love poetry or "poesie".


I didn't know how I was going to do it, because I had to deal with Martin Luther King's murder and Malcolm X's murder and a love affair

"When it looks like the sun isn't going to shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds, " sung the 74-year-old, hosted onto the stage by Rastafarian poet Benjamin Zephaniah.

Poetry had become a rainbow for her, said the black activist poet whose humanitarian work has become synonymous with the vitality she exudes.

She continued for over an hour to laugh and sing her way through a performance which had the hundreds in the Gerrard Marquee mesmorised.

She told of her 'mute' childhood in the tiny Arkansas town of Stamps, forced to learn her tables in front of the pot-belly stove by her grandmother's brother Uncle Willie.

And she described with her raucous laugh how her grandmother - or Mama - had every Sunday for 10 years feigned surprised when asked to sing the same hymn "We shall not be moved."

This was a lecture which provided a real insight into the life of one of the 20th Centuries great poets, who among her many accolades was asked to perform at the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton.

Poet Benjamin Zephaniah
Benjamin Zephaniah: Introduction

She told of her unique passage through life, and her "spiritual approach" to creating the last installment of her autobiography A Song Flung Up to Heaven.

In a moment of great revelation she admitted she has not known how she was going to be able to write the final volume published earlier this year.

"I didn't know how I was going to do it, because I had to deal with Martin Luther King's murder and Malcolm X's murder and a love affair.

"It was the great love affair of my life - I thought when we met that I00 baby angels were dancing on a pinhead.

"It ended... much to my dismay - how was I going to write about that?"

Her answer, she discovered, was to write about "laughing and romantic love and even self love".


Even if I had not been invited, I would have been the black woman outside with a picket sign saying 'They didn't invite me'

In her electrifying delivery - not dimmed at all by age - she gave her audience a sample of the poetry she had found a connection with through the traumas of her early childhood and being raped at the age of 10.

She recited her favourite the Scottish poet Robbie Burns, and a Shakespearean sonnet with examples from other black writers alongside her own work, including the poem written for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.

It was a return visit for Angelou to Hay and she admitted she was pleased.

But she said: "Even if I had not been invited, I would have come.

"I would have been the black woman outside with a picket sign saying 'They didn't invite me'."

But that, luckily, was not the case and Angelou's final message was one which has been repeated through her eventful life.

"When it looks like the sun isn't going to shine anymore, each of us has the chance to become a rainbow in the clouds."

See also:

01 Jun 02 | Wales
27 May 02 | Entertainment
25 May 01 | Entertainment
26 May 01 | Wales
30 May 01 | Wales
26 May 00 | Business
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