The elegantly poetic words of Maya Angelou will come to life tonight in the Student Union Theater as the renaissance woman lectures to a sold-out audience.
The civil rights author and poet — whose works such as “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” rest in the grade school English textbooks of many attendees — will be speaking at the University-hosted event, “A Night With Maya Angelou,” at 7:30 p.m.
The topic of courage, which Angelou considers the most important virtue, will consume most of the 60-minute monologue. But the wordsmith may never outright mention the word, Angelou said between hearty chuckles in an exclusive interview with The Daily Reveille, brimming with surprise.
“Without [courage] you can’t practice any other virtue consistently,” she said. “You can be anything erratically, every now and again. You can be kind, generous, fair or anything occasionally, but to be [those things] time after time after time — you need courage.”
Barack Obama’s presidency has shown courage on his and the country’s parts. Not only is he the first African-American president in a time where racism still exists, but he’s clinched the honor of serving two terms, Angelou said.
Angelou believes the American people showed their maturity when electing Obama to lead the country. Racists’ presence in society should not be ignored, but neither should the presence of those fighting to dissolve racial unfairness, she said.
These signs of the country “growing up” fill Angelou with pride, she said.
Angelou hopes Obama — who is a giant among men in her eyes — continues to show his “manliness and courage” during his second term. She recalled watching the president dance with his wife at his first inauguration.
“When I watched him and Mrs. Obama dance at his first inauguration, it made me weep with its beauty,” she said. “When you see President Obama guiding Mrs. Obama around the floor, you see a man who loves a woman and respects her. It’s wonderful.”
These emotions are the intelligence that people should strive for in today’s world, Angelou said. Human characteristics that provide a deeper look into one’s soul — like a man guiding his wife across the dance floor, president of the U.S. or not — will aid the country in facing adversity.
“We need more intelligence, and by that I don’t mean intellect. Intellect is OK, and it’s important to have, but it deals with facts — the places where, the people who, the times when, the reasons why, blah, blah,” she explained. “But what we need is intelligence because, unfortunately, too many facts can obscure the truth. We need to know how the people feel, what makes us weep, what gives us enough courage to stand erect in the face of difficulty.”
Education is imperative to learning how to encourage and release this kind of intelligence, she said. Today Angelou continues to do her part in educating the world and advocating courage.
Angelou’s latest book, “Mom & Me & Mom,” will hit bookshelves April 2 — two days before her 85th birthday. The novel revolves around the healing powers of love and Angelou’s brother, mother and grandmother.
“My knowledge is that love heals, and it’s the only thing that does,” she said. “With enough love in the family, the pot might be scant of beans and greens, you may be longing for a little more to drink, a little more to eat, but if you have love — not that you can live on it alone — it does make you feel that you’re not alone.”
Angelou encourages young parents to love their children to the best of their ability. She urges parents not to simply raise their children by constantly chastising them; love them and they’ll surprise you with what heights they’ll climb to please a parent.
The next generation, including the University students who will watch her speak tonight, is one facet of Angelou’s inspiration, she said. She is using what she learned from another source of inspiration to teach the youth.
“Somebody’s already paid for me, and my responsibility is to prepare myself so I can pay for someone else who has yet to come. My grandmother, who was a great inspiration and still is, said, ‘When you get, give, and when you learn, teach.’”