She has inspired countless millions with her writings and her devotion to teaching about love. Here, Austin-tied author Elise Ballard talks with Maya Angelou in her best selling book, Epiphany: True Stories of Sudden Insight to Inspire, Encourage and Transform, revealing how Dr. Angelou learned more about love at the deepest level of all.
“We are loved by Love Itself. There is nothing good that we can’t do.” – Maya Angelou
Dr. Maya Angelou is a celebrated African American poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, actress, producer, historian, filmmaker and civil rights activist. In 1970, her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published to international acclaim and enormous popular success. The list of her published verse, non-fiction, and fiction now includes more than thirty bestselling titles. Her screenplay, Georgia, Georgia, the first by an African American woman ever to be filmed, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, as well as her volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie. She 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. Dr. Angelou has served on two presidential committees, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, has received three Grammy Awards, and has been awarded over thirty honorary degrees. She has been a professor at Wake Forest University since 1991 as the recipient of the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies. She is the mother of one son, Guy, and resides in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and more on her can be found at www.MayaAngelou.com
Many people requested Maya Angelou as one of the people whose greatest epiphany they’d like to know about, and her interview remains one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I was a little stunned to be hearing that gorgeous voice on the other end of the phone, but, of course, Dr. Angelou was wonderful, calm and composed and put me at ease. She spoke this story about her epiphanies practically word for word. She truly is a master of the spoken and written word and having the honor of experiencing that mastery and what she shared still moves me to no end.
Well, you know, the truth is everybody probably has two hundred-fifty epiphanies.
The way you’re changed at ten prepares you to be changed again at fifteen, but you couldn’t have been changed at fifteen had you not had that change at ten. You see what I mean? Epiphany builds upon epiphany.
When my son was born, I was seventeen. And I came home from the hospital and my mother put him in the bed with me. I was so afraid I’d roll over on this beautiful baby. But she said, “It’s all right. You’ll be all right.” I thought I might smother him or something. I was just scared.
Sometime in the middle of the night, my mother awakened me, and she said, “Don’t move. Just look.” And I had put my arm up and put my hand on the mattress, and put the blanket over my arm so that my baby was lying in a tent.
And my mom said, “See baby? When you mean right, you do right.”
Then when I was maybe twenty-two or so, I was studying voice, and the voice teacher lived in my house and rented from me. He taught a number of accomplished actresses and singers, and they all studied in my house. So I knew them slightly. But they were all white, and they were accomplished, and many of them were forty years old and had been written about in the San Francisco newspaper, where I lived at the time.
Once a month, the voice teacher asked us to come together and read from a book called Lessons in Truth. We all would read a page, or a half a page, whatever he assigned. And at one point, I was reading and read the line, “God loves me.”
And he said, “Read it again.”
So I read it again, “God loves me.”
He said, “Again.”
And suddenly, I became embarrassed. I was young and black, and everybody else was white and accomplished. I felt he was really embarrassing me. Putting me on the spot. So I read it with ferocity, forcefully, “GOD LOVES ME!”
And, at that moment, I knew it. I knew it!
I thought, “God? That which made bees and mountains and water? That? Loves me? Maya Angelou? Well then there’s nothing I can’t do. I can do anything good.”
Even now, telling you this some fifty years later, it still brings goose bumps to me. I could weep with joy at the knowledge that I am loved by Love Itself.