Maya Angelou Tribute

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Tavis pays tribute to one of the most influential literary voices of the 20th century.

Maya Angelou was celebrated as a poet and writer and had a notable career as an educator, producer, director, actress and civil rights activist. She was among the first African American women to hit the best-sellers lists and, in 1993, became only the second poet in U.S. history to write and recite original work at a presidential inauguration. A three-time spoken word Grammy winner, she published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies and TV shows spanning more than a half century. She was also active in the civil rights movement and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

Angelou was honored with more than 50 awards, including the highest civilian honor in the U.S., the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and, since 1982, taught at Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, NC), where she held the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies.

A national treasure and a phenomenal woman, her inspiring legacy will live on.


Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.

Tonight, the first of two nights of my tribute to Dr. Maya Angelou who passed away this morning at her home in North Carolina at the age of 86.

Dr. Angelou was one of the country’s most celebrated poets, authors and activists and I was honored to be her friend. I had the privilege of speaking with her many times for this program, as well as my public radio shows.

Tonight we’ll begin with a reprise of my conversation with Dr. Angelou from 2004.

And then we’ll pivot to a conversation with musician Ziggy Marley. And please join us again tomorrow night when our entire program will be a tribute to Dr. Angelou.

Thanks for joining us. A tribute to Dr. Maya Angelou and a conversation with Ziggy Marley coming up right now.

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Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Tavis: It is always an honor to be in the presence of Dr. Maya Angelou. The acclaimed poet, civil rights activist and author is out with something a little different this time around, a cookbook.

The book is called – got to love this title – “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes.” I’m getting hungry already, Dr. Maya. Nice to see you.

Angelou Maya: Thank you. It’s wonderful to be with you…

Tavis: I’m glad to have you here.

Angelou: Each time.

Tavis: I was doing an interview the other day with a particular reporter and they asked me – and I probably shouldn’t say this on the air, but it’s gonna be in print anyway.

“So who’s your favorite guest of all time?” I said that would be person who I never get tired of talking to, who I probably talk to more than anybody, Dr. Maya Angelou.

Angelou: Oh, thank you. Oh, my.

Tavis: I’m glad to have you back on.

Angelou: I’m glad to be back. And do you know who the other person is, the other entity?

Tavis: That said the same thing? That you were their favorite guest?

Angelou: Yes.

Tavis: Who?

Angelou: On the Today Show, Elmo was asked [laugh].

Tavis: So Elmo said the same thing?

Angelou: Yes.

Tavis: Well, I’m in good company.

Angelou: I mean, I’m honored that he did.

Tavis: Two PBS personalities, Tavis – well, Elmo was here first. Elmo and Tavis Smiley both love Dr. Maya. Well, I’m in good company. I’m glad to see you.

Angelou: Thank you, Tavis.

Tavis: Speaking of seeing you, when you walked in – your hair looks gorgeous, by the way.

Angelou: Thank you.

Tavis: But when you walked in, I was a bit surprised ’cause I was gonna say to you – put the cover back up for me, Jonathan, the cover of this book. Dr. Maya wears a head wrap. You wear a head wrap like nobody. You work these head wraps.

Angelou: Yes, sir.

Tavis: And I expected to see one today and you came with your hair all done pretty. But what’s the significance of these pieces for you?

Angelou: Well, I lived in West Africa a long time in Ghana for years, as you know. Well, because we were there together.

Tavis: You took me there.

Angelou: The women wear head ties and they represent certain things. You can tie a head tie a certain way with one end of it hanging this way and it means I’m married, so don’t bother me.

Tavis: Okay [laugh].

Angelou: And you can put it this certain way and it means I’m married, but you can talk to me at least [laugh]. And one, I’m not married and I’m looking for certain kinds of people and I’m married and I’m looking, period. So I wear a head tie for the season, you know.

Tavis: For the season.

Angelou: Yes.

Tavis: I was about to ask you last time you came here what that direction meant. Was I supposed to hit on you or…

Angelou: Oh, my Lord [laugh].

Tavis: I don’t know what direction it was in, so I don’t know what it meant.

Angelou: No, you couldn’t. That’s the way it is.

Tavis: Okay [laugh]. Well, let me dig myself out of that hole and talk about this wonderful cookbook, “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table.”

When I heard that you had a cookbook out, I didn’t know what the hook was going to be. I say that respectfully. But I knew that you couldn’t just write a cookbook even though you can cook.

Angelou: That’s right.

Tavis: You can put the pots on now.

Angelou: That’s right.

Tavis: I know you can, but I knew it had to have a hook to it. So the hook, I find out, it is a cookbook that has some of your favorite lifetime stories so that every recipe in here is tied to a particular person, place or thing.

Angelou: That’s right.

Tavis: So I pull out my little magical blue card here. I wrote down some of the things that I just found terribly special.

Before I get to that, though, let me ask you for you what the importance of food is. ‘Cause for folk to keep writing books about this thing called food, it must mean something.

Angelou: No, it’s so important. Tavis, people all over the world use food as a device. I mean, of course, we use it because our bodies need it as fuel. But we also use it to flirt, to seek a job, to seek not just employment, but raises. We use it to prepare a climate for reconciliation. We can use food to tell a person you’re not very important to me.

There’s an old blues, 19th century blues, in which the singer says, “She makes cornbread for her husband, but biscuits for her man.” [Laughs] So that’s that, you see? That tells you something because cornbread, you can throw together with your left hand. But biscuits, you have to take some time [laugh].

So I was looking at it and thinking where throughout my life has food been actually on the point for me? How did my life change when I ate this or was served this? And it made it so fascinating because I’ve lived a long time, you know, and I’ve lived all over the world.

And I thought I would never write it. It’s so tedious writing cookbooks or writing the recipes because I’ve never been much of a measurer. But to write a book, you have to measure everything.

Tavis: What you do is just a little dab of this and a little dab of that, yeah.

Angelou: Some, some and a right smart.

Tavis: There you go [laugh]. A right smart, yeah.

Angelou: But I know how a teaspoon of salt looks in my hand, so I put it there and put it in. I had to hire a chef to second-cook me, so he would measure everything…

Tavis: That you did.

Angelou: That I did. So I said I would never ask anyone who cared for me or with whom I was talking, if you hear me say I’m going to do a cookbook, come take my lapels, shake me, look in my eyes, ask me, “Are you crazy?”

But, you know, now I’ve thought about 10 more incidents, 10 more subjects, 10 more stories and now I don’t know.

Tavis: You may have another one in you.

Angelou: I may.

Tavis: Well, let me just say hallelujah.

Angelou: Thank you.

Tavis: All right. Let me throw some things at you, speaking of food, in the time I have left with you – and there’s never enough time with you – some food that you write about in this book and you share with me the story connected to it. I love caramel cake.

Angelou: I do too.

Tavis: And you have a great story in here and a great recipe.

Angelou: Yes.

Tavis: All right. My grandmother made caramel cake and it was so tedious for her ’cause she cooked in a wood-burning stove. She didn’t have brown sugar, so she had to do it all – it would be a three or four-hour deal.

I went to school one day and I didn’t speak for a number of years. I had volunteer mute. Everyone knew that, the teachers, everybody, the students. And the teacher that day said, “You will speak. You will not bring that stupidness in my classroom.” I didn’t speak for six years.

And she wound herself up, made herself so angry with me. She just hauled off and slapped me and I hauled off and ran down to my grandmother.

And my grandmother said, “In the name of God, Sister.” So she said, “We’ll go back to school.” So she went back to school in a fresh apron sticking out like that, and she walked in the classroom.

She asked, “Are you Miss Williams?” and the teacher said, “I am.” And she asked her, “Are you somebody’s grandbaby?” She said, “I am someone’s granddaughter.” And my grandmother said, “Well, now this here, that’s my grandbaby” and she slapped her.

Tavis: Slapped the teacher [laugh].

Angelou: Slapped the teacher. Then she said to me, “Now, sister, I’m wrong this time. Nobody ought to slap nobody in the face, but I’m teaching a lesson. Now, Sister, you find yourself a seat and sit down and get your lesson.”

I mean, nobody, no children, nobody said anything. Nothing like that had ever happened in Stamps, Arkansas, Lafayette County Training School, ever. So we were all in shock. When I went home that evening, my Uncle Willie said, “Sister, look at me on the table. I want you to get that thing and bring it out here.”

And I went in, Tavis Smiley. There was a beautiful caramel cake. I brought it out and my Uncle Willie said, “Now, Sister, nothing can make up for you being slapped in the face, but Mama made this to let you know how much we love you, how precious you are.”

Now, you see, with that kind of love, you can come through insults, injuries, racism, sexism, ageism. With that kind of love, and she never once hugged me, she made a caramel cake and it took her four hours to do it.

Tavis: You better stop ’cause you’re about to cry. I see it in your eyes. I’m about to cry and we can’t have that. There’s no crying on PBS.

Angelou: Oh, shoot. I thought this was the only place you could [laugh].

Tavis: We can’t do that. Braised short ribs of beef [laugh].

Angelou: That was in San Francisco. I was 17. I had a child and I saw an ad in the window that said, “Cook, $75 a week.” I thought there couldn’t be that much money in the world. I went in and I said, “I’m a cook.” The woman asked me, “Do you cook Creole?” I said, “Of course. That’s all I know.”

I didn’t cook at all. But I went back home and I asked the people in the house how do you cook Creole? And an old man told me, “Put in onion, garlic, green pepper, red pepper and tomato and you got Creole.”

Tavis: And that’s what you did.

Angelou: I did, and I built up the business. But everything tasted alike. I mean, the short ribs of beef, meat loaf…

Tavis: It all tasted like Creole.

Angelou: Chicken [laugh].

Tavis: I could go on and on and on and I hate that I don’t have enough time. But there’s so many wonderful recipes in this book.

It is Maya Angelou’s new book, “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes.” You got a favorite in here? They’re all your favorites in here.

Angelou: Well, I like…

Tavis: Just give me one that we didn’t get a chance to talk about right quick.

Angelou: I like the lemon meringue pie.

Tavis: Oh, yeah.

Angelou: I like it that that woman used it to fish for young men.

Tavis: Oh, yeah. You better stop right there [laugh]. You want a good read and, moreover, some good cooking as only Dr. Maya can put stories and recipes together and serve it up and make it all taste this good.

It is, again, “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes” from the one and only Dr. Maya Angelou. Always an honor to see you.

Angelou: Thank you, my dear, thank you.

Tavis: Tomorrow night, more of my conversations with the remarkable Dr. Maya Angelou.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at

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Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: May 29, 2014 at 3:37 pm