Face to Face: Maya Angelou The Late Show


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Face to Face: Maya Angelou

First transmitted in 1994, Jeremy Isaacs asks the American writer Maya Angelou about her life, her writing and her hopes for the future.


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BBC Four Collections -

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specially-chosen programmes from the BBC archive.

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For this collection, Sir Michael Parkinson has selected

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BBC interviews with influential figures of the 20th century.

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More programmes on this theme

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and other BBC Four collections are available on BBC iPlayer.

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JEREMY ISAACS: 'Maya Angelou,

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'in your life you've been all sorts of things -

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'cook, a conductorette on a tram car,

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'a madam, a prostitute, a dancer, a singer,

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'an actress, a civil rights activist, a writer.

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'What's given you most satisfaction?'

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I'm a writer. That's what I do.

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Um, I'd identify myself to myself as a writer.

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Um...

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I love the sound of the human voice.

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And I love the way

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we try to translate ourselves to each other by language.

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I love it.

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Um...

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I speak a number of languages

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because I do like the sound of the human voice.

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But I also like the... the mystery of language.

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That just... It... It... It's got me.

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I can't get loose.

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'At President Clinton's inauguration, you wrote and performed a poem,

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'On The Pulse Of Morning, and you were the first poet

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'to do so at an inauguration since Robert Frost spoke at Kennedy's.

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'What does that poem, that you spoke then, say to us?'

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It says, in effect,

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what all my work, I hope, says.

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I mean, it is...

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I hear pundits explain that

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writers may say they have six or eight volumes in them,

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or ten, maybe, but they have one theme.

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Well, if I have one - I think I have two -

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but one theme is that human beings are more alike than we are unalike.

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And in everything I write,

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whether it's music and lyrics for Roberta Flack

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or BB King, or poems or books or essays,

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all I'm trying to say,

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or what the main thesis is,

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is human beings are more alike than we are unalike.

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So in the poem On The Pulse Of Morning, I introduce that thesis.

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'What's the other main theme you have?'

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Well, the second, and it may be the first,

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it depends on what time of day I'm talking... But the other is that

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we may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.

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That, in fact, it may be necessary to encounter defeat

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so we can know who the hell we are, what can we overcome,

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what makes us stumble and fall and somehow miraculously rise and go on.

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I know that a diamond is a result of extreme pressure.

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Less time and less pressure

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and it's just crystal or coal or fossilised leaves,

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or just dirt.

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But time and pressure will create a diamond, not...

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I mean, it is considered one of the most beautiful elements

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and it's one of the hardest elements on our planet.

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'A Rock, A River, A Tree, hands working together.

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'Another poet, Norton Tennille, has claimed that he wrote

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'and published ten years ago, a poem that contains the same themes,

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'the same structure and some of the same language.

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'Did you respond to that?'

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No, I didn't. And I wouldn't.

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I think in his poem...I read the poem after he claimed. He used the word

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"rock" and he used, I think, a tree or river, but many poets do that.

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And, um... they were not in that sequence.

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Somewhere in his second verse, he said "a river" or something.

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But, um...

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he and another fellow seemed to have decided that they will

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ride my back into some sort of fame.

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I used the rock, the river and the tree

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because in all my work I go to the African-American canon

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for themes, whether I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

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or... All my books are entitled, and my poetry, I reach back.

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In the 19th century there was this song about the rock,

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which is still sung in Black churches. It's...um...

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# Oh, I went to the rock to hide my face

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# Rock cried out, no hiding place

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# No hiding place down here... #

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So in my poem, I say the rock says, "You may stand on my back,

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"but don't hide your face."

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And the river is from two songs. It's from...

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# Deep river... #

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But it's also from, um...

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Um, I...

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There's a... Mm, The River Of...

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'The River Of Jordan?'

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No, it's...

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I mean, everybody knows the song, it's, um...

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I Will Study War No More.

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# Oh, I... #

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No, I'm thinking of river, a rock. It's...

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# I'm going to lay down my sword and shield

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# Down by the river side Down by the river side

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# Down by the river side

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# Lay down my sword and shield Down by the river side

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# To study war no more. #

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So in my poem, I say the river sings,

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and says, "If you will put down your arms and study war no more...

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"come."

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And then the last poem, the last image...

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- 'The tree.' - ..is the tree.

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And it was my grandma's favourite song.

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And she sang...

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She was a tall woman, over 6ft... Taller than I, and I'm 6ft.

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And she sang...

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# I shall not, I shall not be moved

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# I shall not, I shall not be moved

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# Just like a tree that's planted by the water

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# Oh, I shall not be moved. #

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So those are the three.

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And throughout the poem, I continue that theme,

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that if you will plant yourself

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beside me, here beside the river,

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and study war no more, then, you know...

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- 'Do you think America listened...' - ..you might survive.

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'Did America listen to your poem?'

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Yes. A number of people listened to the poem.

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- 'I mean...' - Heard it, yes.

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A number of people have heard it.

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And were inspired by it.

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But the poem has been translated, I'm told, into some 41 languages.

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So, um...a lot of people have heard it.

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'Before you'd written a book at all,

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'a publisher told you it was hard to write autobiography as literature.

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'But The Caged Bird is certainly literature,

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'and fine literature at that.

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'Was it hard to write?'

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It was very hard.

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I was suckered into it.

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I mean, you know how the pugilists talk about "a sucker punch"?

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Well, I had gone with James Baldwin to Jules Feiffer's house,

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and Jules was then married to a woman, Judy,

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and all three of them were wits

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and were big talkers.

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So I had to fight for the right to play it good.

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The next day, after the evening

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of great fun and revelry and copious libation

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and so on, this woman, Judy Feiffer,

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called the man who became my editor and said,

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"If you could get the poet Maya Angelou

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"to write a book about her life,

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"you would have something." So he phoned and I said, "No."

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He asked me a second time, I said, "No."

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So I went out to California, I had written ten one-hour programmes,

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a series, for PBS.

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And Bob Loomis phoned the last time, he said,

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"Well, Miss Angelou, I'm just glad

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"you don't try to write an autobiography,

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"because to write autobiography as literature is impossible."

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So I said, "Well, let me try!"

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But I'm sure James Baldwin had called him,

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because that's something...

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Even now, I still jump when that button is pushed.

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I'm not proud of that.

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I would like to become, to grow into the person who says,

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"Oh, you pushed that button, I shall not jump."

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But I haven't grown that far yet.

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'Was it hard to remember?

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'Had you buried the memories of your early life?'

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I don't think so. Um...

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I had...

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I have a strange kind of memory,

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and I think it is a physiological difference in my brain.

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Because I didn't speak for years.

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And I think those areas of the brain which would have dealt with

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the vocalisation and articulation of ideas had gone.

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I think that the brain just went somewhere else.

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It just said, "OK, I'm not jumping from here to there

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"so I'll jump from here to there."

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And I have a strange kind of memory.

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Um...

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A lot of the people I've written about are still alive.

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'Tell me... I talked to a writer the other day in this series,

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'the English writer and novelist Jeanette Winterson, and she said,

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'"There's no such thing as autobiography.

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'"There's only art and lies."'

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SHE LAUGHS

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I love that! Well...that's good.

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'Do you reckon you're...?

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'To what extent is the book a construct

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'and to what extent is it reportage of what actually happened?'

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Oh, no, I think that that's a wonderful statement,

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because all art is lies, all lies are art.

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It's like all riddles are blues and all blues are sad.

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Or funny, or something.

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I mean, you can't say that...

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that I have spoken truth to you,

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even though I say this is a red blouse.

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Now, red to me may mean something utterly different to you.

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And so, my attempt to translate, to describe what I see,

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may be so absolutely different.

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What I mean by square may mean something other than

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what you mean by square.

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- Um... - 'Tell me...'

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Let me just finish this. I love that.

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I believe...

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..that people can tell so many facts that they obscure the truth.

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You can describe the places where, the people who, the times when,

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the methods how, et cetera.

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And never get to the truth of the matter.

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You just blind people with data and numbers and stuff.

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Percentages.

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But the heart of the thing is lost, or beshrouded.

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Now, I have no hesitation in trying to get to the truth of the matter.

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And putting five or six facts and pieces of data together,

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to try to show,

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"Look at this, look at this, this is human, this is who we are,

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"this is what we can stand."

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So, art and lies, I like that.

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'Tell me about your childhood. Who was your father?'

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My father was Bailey Johnson.

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My father was born to a woman who was a...a tree, really.

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I mean, she was...

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And at 16, he left home, he left this little village in the South

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where my grandmother owned the only Black-owned store in the town.

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He left and joined up, put his age up and went to World War I.

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And learnt French.

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And came back much too grand for his skin,

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for his skin colour at the time.

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He thought that he...

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He was handsome, he spoke French,

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he was debonair and he would've been lynched in the South.

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'Right.'

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So he became a doorman at a swank hotel in Los Angeles.

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And he wore a uniform.

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I have photographs.

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He wore the uniform as if he was a major in the army.

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It was just...

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'And your mother? Who was she?'

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My mother was a very pretty woman from St Louis and, um...

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who loved him quite a lot.

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Fortunately for myself, for my brother,

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for the welfare and weel of my country, they separated soon -

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they were absolutely too volatile to be together.

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But she was a very pretty woman

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and a very bright woman, and very courageous.

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'She worked hard and sent you, when you were three, away.'

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- Yes. - 'She sent you to your grandmother.'

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- To my paternal grandmother at that. - 'Right.'

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'Was there any sense of rejection on your part at that time?'

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Absolutely. I thought it was the worst thing.

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I just declared her dead,

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so that I wouldn't have to long for her.

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Um...yes, it was terrible rejection.

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My brother has never recovered.

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'What was your grandmother like?'

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Aah, Momma!

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She was just the best.

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She spoke softly.

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She walked very straight.

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And she was severe.

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So that people who owed us money really disliked her.

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Because she never gave anybody...

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She didn't seem to have any laxity in herself -

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physically, or in her personality.

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It was one way, that was the way.

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So I got a whipping once when I was very young,

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because I said, "By the way," to my brother.

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My grandmother whipped me.

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She said... I mean switched, you know.

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But she said, "Jesus was the Way, the Truth and the Light,"

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and I had said, "By the way," which meant "by Jesus",

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which was a way of saying, "By God,"

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and she would have no cursing in her house.

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So I mean, she was just...stern.

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'Your mother sent for you back to St Louis.'

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Yes.

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'And at the age of seven or eight...'

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Seven.

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'..seven, you were raped by one of her boyfriends.

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'There's an extraordinary brief passage in the book

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'in which you describe that experience.

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- 'Can you repeat it?' - I can't repeat it.

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'Do you mind if I repeat it? Cos it brings...'

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Let me try to tell you about it.

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Er...

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I know that he was longing...

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This is not an apologia for him,

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but I know that he was intoxicated with my mother.

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Most men were, for years.

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And she lived outside, and she was funny and clever and cute and that.

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And I think in his rage at his inability to control her

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and have her when he wanted, I think he raped me in rage.

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Er...

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I don't condone that.

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But as an adult, I try to understand what provokes

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and impels people into and out of things.

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Er...

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'At the time, it was an appalling trauma.

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'How did you recover from that?'

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I don't know if I've ever recovered.

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I operate in the familiar.

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And because I don't carry the bitterness of it,

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I've not been as wounded...

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I was terribly wounded at first,

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but the wounds become scars and the scars become...sacr...

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Well, just...little pieces of cosmetics.

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'Is that the advice you would give to people

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'whose dear ones suffer such a trauma?'

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I would say to everybody, whether the dear one

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or the person herself or himself,

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I would say, do your best not to...

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give passage and harbour to bitterness.

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Bitterness is stupid.

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It's like cancer, it eats upon the host.

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Doesn't do a damn thing to the object.

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So try not to be bitter, cos that's silly.

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I mean, that's a waste of energy, and almost a waste of life.

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To be angry is very good, I think.

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Anger is like fire, it burns things out,

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and leaves nutrients in the soil and so forth.

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I think that's good.

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We should always be ready to be angry at injustice and cruelty.

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But not to be bitter.

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'You told the rapist's name,

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'and the next day, I think, he was beaten to death.'

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- Well... - 'Was that a direct consequence?'

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Well, he was put in jail, and he was freed in one day.

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He was put in jail, and he spent one day.

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And the police came by my maternal grandmother's house

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and told her that he had been found dead,

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and it seemed he'd been kicked to death.

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I was seven and a half.

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I thought my voice had actually killed him.

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And so...

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..I stopped talking.

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It seemed to me it was very dangerous.

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That if my voice could kill people like that, then if I spoke,

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anybody might just get downed.

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I felt I could speak to my grandma, and sometimes I did.

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'You took a conscious decision not to speak.'

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Yes.

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And you held to that for how long?

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Almost six years.

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'How did that affect your schooling?

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'You went back to Stamps in Arkansas, how did...?'

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I was an A student.

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But you see, also, my grandmother, again, owned most of the land.

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And Momma was Momma.

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So all the teachers who came... It was the South,

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and there were no boarding houses for Black teachers.

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They would come from the big city, like Little Rock or Pine Bluff,

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to this village, and they would have to live with people,

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you know, who had houses.

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Well, as soon as the teachers would move in, they would be told,

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"Sister Henderson's granddaughter doesn't speak."

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So I wrote everything on the blackboard.

0:20:480:20:52

I had a tablet which I tucked into my skirt,

0:20:520:20:55

and if I had a dress I would have a belt.

0:20:550:20:58

Tie belt, and tuck it in.

0:20:580:21:00

And I wrote everything.

0:21:000:21:02

- 'And you read.' - I read.

0:21:020:21:06

'And you say that you discovered Shakespeare at Stamps.'

0:21:060:21:10

Yeah, at about ten. Nine or ten.

0:21:100:21:13

It was amazing.

0:21:140:21:15

I couldn't believe that he was White!

0:21:150:21:18

Really.

0:21:190:21:20

Because, I mean, his language was complicated,

0:21:200:21:24

but I read the sonnets, and I memorised 50 sonnets.

0:21:240:21:30

Er...

0:21:300:21:31

But the one, one of them...

0:21:310:21:34

I mean, I loved a number of them, but the one that made me think,

0:21:340:21:38

"How could he know what it feels like to be me?" is -

0:21:380:21:43

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes

0:21:430:21:47

I all alone bemoan my outcast state

0:21:470:21:53

And trouble a deaf Heaven with my bootless cries

0:21:530:21:58

And look upon myself and curse my fate

0:21:580:22:01

Wishing me like one more rich in hope

0:22:010:22:04

Featured like him Like him with friends possessed

0:22:040:22:07

Desiring that man's art and that man's scope

0:22:070:22:10

And with what I most enjoy contented least.

0:22:100:22:13

How could he know that, almost five centuries earlier?

0:22:130:22:18

Oh, no. I mean, I wouldn't have been too surprised

0:22:180:22:21

if somebody had shown me that he was really a Black girl in Stamps.

0:22:210:22:25

'The Ku Klux Klan were at work

0:22:270:22:31

'in your childhood, in your town.'

0:22:310:22:35

- Were people scared of them? - 'Absolutely.'

0:22:360:22:40

And in my town, they didn't wear sheets.

0:22:400:22:44

They didn't have to.

0:22:440:22:46

They had such power that they could ride over into the Black area,

0:22:460:22:51

threaten, kill and maim people,

0:22:510:22:54

just because they didn't agree with God's choice

0:22:540:22:57

for the colours of the people's skin.

0:22:570:22:59

And they didn't wear sheets.

0:22:590:23:01

'And when you stood up to them -

0:23:010:23:03

'or rather, when you expressed your views to White people

0:23:030:23:06

'in the other part of the town -

0:23:060:23:08

'your family told you that was dangerous, and said to shut up...'

0:23:080:23:12

- And get out. - '..and take care, and get out.

0:23:120:23:14

'Did your mother ever talk to you

0:23:160:23:19

'later on in your relationship with her about the rape?

0:23:190:23:22

'Did she feel responsible for it

0:23:220:23:24

- 'in any way?' - Not a word. She really...

0:23:240:23:27

She was a very passionate woman, very...

0:23:270:23:34

She held her anger like...

0:23:340:23:40

some people hold banners. Flags.

0:23:400:23:45

She was very proud of her anger. It described her to herself.

0:23:450:23:50

'It was her boyfriend, she never apologised to you for what happened?'

0:23:500:23:54

No. She wouldn't have... I mean, no.

0:23:540:23:58

No, she wasn't that sort of person.

0:23:580:24:00

'You had both a glamorous, loving, working mother,

0:24:000:24:05

'and also a very strong grandmother.

0:24:050:24:09

'You had a supportive extended family.

0:24:090:24:14

'Is that characteristic of Negro society?'

0:24:140:24:16

Well...I had a wonderful uncle, too. And I think...

0:24:160:24:21

And my brother, of course.

0:24:210:24:23

But my uncle was very supportive and very encouraging.

0:24:230:24:28

He believed I could do things.

0:24:280:24:31

And, er, I have to mention his name.

0:24:310:24:36

'Do those sort of hopes still persist in the South?'

0:24:360:24:40

In some places, yes.

0:24:400:24:42

In the areas where they don't, we see the statistics,

0:24:420:24:47

the painful taunting, the tales of brutality

0:24:470:24:52

- and random violence and that. - 'You mean in the inner cities?'

0:24:520:24:56

Yes, and in the South as well.

0:24:560:24:59

Yes.

0:24:590:25:00

'Er, you became the first Black conductorette.

0:25:010:25:05

'How did you get that job?'

0:25:050:25:07

Well, I wanted a job, and I was 16...

0:25:070:25:11

I was 15, and, er...

0:25:110:25:13

..my mother said, "Go get a job."

0:25:150:25:17

And I was ahead in my classwork,

0:25:170:25:20

and I'd been down visiting my dad to disastrous results.

0:25:200:25:25

And so my mom said I could work for the next three months.

0:25:250:25:29

So I wanted to get a job on the street cars

0:25:300:25:33

because I saw women on the street cars.

0:25:330:25:35

I didn't notice that they were only White.

0:25:350:25:38

But they had changers, coin changers.

0:25:380:25:42

And wore caps with bibs, and jackets.

0:25:420:25:45

They looked just it.

0:25:450:25:47

So I thought, "I'll get myself a job."

0:25:470:25:50

I was 6ft tall and White people

0:25:500:25:52

didn't know how Black people looked anyway, how old one was.

0:25:520:25:57

So I went down and they wouldn't even accept...

0:25:570:26:00

I mean, they wouldn't give me a form, an application form.

0:26:000:26:04

I came back home devastated, to my mom.

0:26:040:26:08

And she asked me, "Do you know why they wouldn't?"

0:26:080:26:10

I said, "Yes, because I'm Black."

0:26:100:26:12

She said, "That's right. Do you want it?"

0:26:120:26:14

I said, "Yes." She said, "Go get it."

0:26:140:26:17

So, she said she would give me lunch money and car fare and I should go

0:26:170:26:23

every day and be there before the secretaries go in,

0:26:230:26:27

and sit there and read.

0:26:270:26:30

Go out to lunch, but be back before the secretaries, wait at the door.

0:26:300:26:34

Be there.

0:26:340:26:36

Well, by about the fourth day I was so tired of this thing,

0:26:360:26:40

I wanted to give up, I wanted to go home.

0:26:400:26:43

But Mom... I mean, Mom, she asked me, "Do you want it?"

0:26:430:26:47

I said, "Yes." She said, "Get it."

0:26:470:26:49

So I couldn't fold, you know?

0:26:490:26:53

I really was tired of it, but I stuck it.

0:26:530:26:56

And after a month, I got the job.

0:26:560:26:58

'Looking for sexual experience, you asked a young man

0:26:590:27:02

'to have intercourse with you and got pregnant.'

0:27:020:27:04

Yes.

0:27:040:27:06

'Was it easy to be a mother at the age of 17?'

0:27:060:27:08

Well, it wasn't easy.

0:27:100:27:13

But my mom didn't put me down.

0:27:130:27:15

I mean, I didn't let her know until three weeks before my child was born.

0:27:150:27:21

She delivered him.

0:27:210:27:23

She asked me, "Do you love the boy?"

0:27:230:27:24

I said, "No." She asked, "Does he love you?" I said, "No."

0:27:240:27:27

She said, "well, then, there's no point in ruining three lives.

0:27:270:27:30

"We have a baby, we're going to have a baby."

0:27:300:27:33

And, um, my son...

0:27:330:27:36

I mean, if I have a monument in the world, my son is my monument.

0:27:360:27:42

He says I shouldn't say that, that he should be his own monument.

0:27:420:27:46

But he's not here, I can say it!

0:27:460:27:49

'Later on, hard put to earn a living, and for other reasons,

0:27:490:27:55

'you became briefly a prostitute.'

0:27:550:27:58

Well, it wasn't...

0:27:580:27:59

I think it was...because...

0:27:590:28:03

the fellow I liked told me he was desperate.

0:28:030:28:07

And I was so green!

0:28:090:28:11

I mean, I was 18 or something.

0:28:110:28:14

I think at 18, people probably should all be put out in pens, you know!

0:28:140:28:18

Fresh meat thrown to them until they become acclimatised and socialised.

0:28:200:28:26

I tell you why I wrote that, though.

0:28:260:28:28

I wrote about that in a book called Gather Together In My Name

0:28:280:28:34

because so many adults told, and tell, young people,

0:28:340:28:39

"I've never done anything wrong.

0:28:390:28:42

"My closet is free of spectres and ghosts and skeletons.

0:28:420:28:47

"My dad would've killed... My mother...

0:28:470:28:49

"I was so good."

0:28:490:28:51

And so young men and women must think,

0:28:510:28:53

"Damn, there's something wrong with me.

0:28:530:28:56

"My parents are so good and so pure."

0:28:560:29:00

So I thought, they could all gather together in my name.

0:29:000:29:05

I would tell the children, "Listen, I've done this.

0:29:050:29:08

"This has happened.

0:29:080:29:10

"I have forgiven myself, I have gotten up and this has happened."

0:29:100:29:14

I was afraid that when I told it that there would be a sort of worldwide,

0:29:140:29:20

or certainly nationwide, sneering at me.

0:29:200:29:25

Just the opposite.

0:29:250:29:27

Just the opposite happened.

0:29:270:29:29

People were so grateful that somebody told the children, "Listen, dear,

0:29:290:29:35

"you may make many mistakes, you may be defeated,

0:29:350:29:39

"but you must not be defeated.

0:29:390:29:41

"You may encounter defeats."

0:29:410:29:44

'How did you avoid the mistake of getting on to heavy drugs?'

0:29:440:29:49

Well, a man was very kind to me.

0:29:490:29:52

A man who used drugs, who was a boyfriend.

0:29:520:29:55

He took me to a...

0:29:580:30:00

..shooting gallery,

0:30:010:30:03

where they shoot up drugs.

0:30:030:30:06

And I didn't even know he used drugs.

0:30:060:30:09

But he took me, and he brought me into the bathroom

0:30:090:30:13

and leaned against the door so I couldn't get out.

0:30:130:30:16

And he rolled up his sleeve and he took his tie.

0:30:160:30:19

And I started crying.

0:30:190:30:20

He said, "Watch it, look at this."

0:30:200:30:23

And he fished around with the needle.

0:30:230:30:26

And I was crying and he just forced me to look.

0:30:260:30:30

And finally he found the needle...the vein.

0:30:300:30:32

And he untied this tie.

0:30:320:30:35

And you could see the drugs.

0:30:350:30:36

I mean, you could see his face.

0:30:360:30:39

Almost like in slow motion.

0:30:400:30:43

Almost like a melting down, like a Dali-esque painting.

0:30:430:30:47

You could see the tension go out.

0:30:480:30:50

He said, "Now, do you want some?"

0:30:500:30:52

"Absolutely not!"

0:30:540:30:57

So I've never been tempted, I have never sniffed it or smoked it or...

0:30:570:31:03

That was a very kind thing for him to do.

0:31:040:31:07

'You were a dancer, you discovered you could dance,

0:31:070:31:11

'and you performed in the great, famous tour of Porgy And Bess.'

0:31:110:31:15

Yes.

0:31:150:31:17

'Did you know you could be an entertainer of that quality?'

0:31:170:31:21

Um, yes.

0:31:230:31:24

I had studied dance,

0:31:240:31:26

and I always thought I would do something quite wonderful.

0:31:260:31:32

Whatever I did, I was going to do it as well as I could.

0:31:320:31:35

I thought at one time I was going to become a real estate broker

0:31:350:31:38

and have my own briefcase

0:31:380:31:40

and high-heeled matching shoes.

0:31:400:31:42

I was going to do that.

0:31:420:31:44

'One of your marriages, a marriage to a member,

0:31:460:31:49

'I think, of the Pan-African Congress, took you to Cairo.

0:31:490:31:52

'Then from there, you went on to Ghana.

0:31:520:31:55

'What did you learn about the world in Africa?'

0:31:550:31:59

I was quite surprised to find that a number of Africanisms, or what

0:31:590:32:04

I thought were Afro-Americanisms, really had their origin in Africa.

0:32:040:32:10

I had been up on the soapbox with everybody else, including Malcolm,

0:32:100:32:17

saying that our culture was taken from us by slavery.

0:32:170:32:22

Not so. Not so.

0:32:230:32:25

So many things I had grown up knowing and in using - ways of speaking,

0:32:250:32:31

ways of moving, ways of treating other people -

0:32:310:32:35

I found to be Africanisms.

0:32:350:32:38

That was a fabulous experience.

0:32:380:32:43

I got off a plane in Kano, Nigeria.

0:32:430:32:47

I had taken the Egyptian airline to Kano.

0:32:470:32:51

I got off the plane and a young Black man, in white shirt, white knickers,

0:32:510:32:57

epaulettes, a cap...

0:32:570:33:00

I'd never seen a Black man on a tarmac

0:33:000:33:03

in anything other than a cleaning uniform.

0:33:030:33:07

And this fellow saluted as the people deplaned,

0:33:070:33:11

all the Europeans and Egyptians.

0:33:110:33:13

"Good afternoon. Welcome to Kano. Welcome. Welcome."

0:33:130:33:16

And when I came down,

0:33:160:33:18

a beam of smile went right to his ears and he said, "Welcome, Auntie."

0:33:180:33:25

I thought, "Wait a minute."

0:33:250:33:27

But that's how I would have been addressed

0:33:270:33:29

by a young person in the South.

0:33:290:33:34

'Have your books changed the way that Black Americans see the world?

0:33:340:33:38

'Or the way that we see Black Americans?'

0:33:400:33:42

Some people say so, it's not for me to say that.

0:33:420:33:45

'You've often been described as a feminist writer.

0:33:460:33:50

'Are you a feminist writer?'

0:33:500:33:51

Well, I'm a female and I'm a writer.

0:33:510:33:54

Um, I don't know if that's so.

0:33:540:33:56

'You once said that feminism didn't offer much to Black American women.'

0:33:560:34:02

Oh, well, maybe that was early on.

0:34:020:34:04

I don't know about feminism, anyway.

0:34:040:34:06

I know about woman-ism.

0:34:060:34:09

I know something about that.

0:34:090:34:10

Sometimes, feminists can be...

0:34:100:34:16

Feminism can be...not very inviting.

0:34:160:34:21

And I like very much...

0:34:220:34:24

I like being a woman...a lot.

0:34:240:34:26

And being a Black American woman even more.

0:34:280:34:32

I do know that there's a difference between being an old female

0:34:320:34:36

and being a woman.

0:34:360:34:38

Born with certain genitalia, if you live long enough

0:34:380:34:41

and don't get run over by a truck or eaten up by a lion or something,

0:34:410:34:45

then you can be an old female.

0:34:450:34:48

But to be a woman...is so inviting.

0:34:480:34:53

It's the same being a man.

0:34:530:34:55

You can have certain genitalia and live long enough,

0:34:550:34:58

you'll be an old male.

0:34:580:34:59

But to be a man is to have some grace and some humour, some passion,

0:34:590:35:06

some compassion.

0:35:060:35:07

It's a wonderful thing.

0:35:090:35:10

'Is there anything you regret in your life, anything you regret not doing?'

0:35:100:35:15

Hmm, that's a waste of time, isn't it?

0:35:150:35:20

I don't know.

0:35:200:35:21

- 'Do you have fears, at all?' - Mm-hm.

0:35:210:35:23

I feared coming on this programme.

0:35:230:35:26

'I hope you're not frightened now.'

0:35:270:35:31

Mm, I will be over my fear when the programme is finished.

0:35:310:35:35

No, but really, I have agreed that I will die.

0:35:350:35:40

I admit that.

0:35:400:35:43

Once I get that far, I'm all right.

0:35:430:35:47

Because I understand that is the big bugaboo,

0:35:470:35:50

and I will do that, ready or not.

0:35:500:35:53

So if I can do that, and will, then...

0:35:530:35:57

'What's the task you've set yourself before you die?'

0:35:580:36:02

I want to... So many things.

0:36:040:36:05

I want to be a Christian.

0:36:050:36:07

That's a really hard matter.

0:36:090:36:11

It's like being a Jew or a Muslim, Buddhist, Shintoist.

0:36:110:36:15

I'm always amazed when people walk up and say, "I'm a Christian."

0:36:150:36:18

I think, "Already? Damn!"

0:36:180:36:22

I'm working so hard at it, to BE it.

0:36:220:36:26

I really would like to BE it,

0:36:260:36:30

a kind person, an inclusive person.

0:36:300:36:35

Merciful, even.

0:36:390:36:41

Not just...just, but merciful.

0:36:410:36:45

I'd like that.

0:36:450:36:46

I blow it all the time and I probably will die not having come close to it,

0:36:460:36:51

but I love it.

0:36:510:36:53

So that may help.

0:36:530:36:55

That may go down up in heaven on my side.

0:36:550:36:58

'How would you like us to remember you?'

0:36:590:37:01

As a...woman who is mostly funny,

0:37:030:37:08

cheerful, with some courage.

0:37:080:37:12

And who has enough courage to love somebody.

0:37:150:37:18

'Are you in love now?'

0:37:190:37:20

Yes!

0:37:200:37:21

Yes.

0:37:230:37:25

Yes, yes, yes!

0:37:250:37:27

Yes, I am in love. Yes!

0:37:270:37:29

First transmitted in 1994, Jeremy Isaacs asks the American writer Maya Angelou about her life, her writing and her hopes for the future. What unfolds is a frank and sometimes shocking account of her journey to becoming an established author.