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Audio Interview with Maya Angelou

Maya AngelouMaya Angelou’s life is an open book, says Don Swaim. Angelou has spent her literary career writing autobiographical literature such as I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings, All of God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, and Now Sheba Sing the Song. But even after writing so many novels, Angelou says she still trying something with the form.

She says she wants to use “I” and mean “we,” a task she has found to be ambitious.

Angelou fell in love with reading and poetry at the age of 8, shortly after she stopped talking. She was mute – as she refers to it – until she was a little over 12 years old. During this time, Angelou describes a transformation in her brain that made her capable of memorizing certain things to the smallest detail. She memorized Poe, Hughes, Shakespeare, and Kipling. Based on these descriptions, Swaim took a leap and suggested she was, in fact, autistic.

Angelou would not speak again until provoked by a grade school teacher, Mrs. Flowers. Her teacher taught her the only way to truly love poetry was to speak it. Reading poetry was how Angelou found her voice.

Her newly published book at the time of the interview, Now Sheba Sings the Song, was illustrated by Tom Feelings, a long-time friend. Angelou describes her appreciation for Feelings’ depictions of black women because, “black women,” she says, “seem or appear to white men, white women, black men, and even black women, as too exotic to be touched or to be loved or to be understood.”

Feelings, she said, understood that.

Listen in RealAudio to the Maya Angelou interview with Don Swaim, May 5, 1987
(21 min. 32

Maya Angelou, 1987
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For many years most of the best writers of the English language found their way to Don Swaim's CBS Radio studio in New York. Wired for Books is proud to webcast these interviews in RealAudio.

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