Following is one of the last interviews with Maya Angelou. Written by Ernie Suggs, it was published two months ago.
Maya Angelou, whose words have inspired millions, including presidents, kings and Oprah, will be in Atlanta on Saturday to inspire women.
Angelou will be the keynote speaker at the “Women 2 Women 2014 Inaugural Conference: Intergenerational Life Lessons & Legacies,” sponsored by Young Eventions Group, an Atlanta-based nonprofit mentoring organization for women.
Angelou has written more than 20 books, including “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” one in a series of autobiographies; “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Die,” which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize; and “Letter To My Daughter.” In 1993, President Bill Clinton selected her to compose a poem for his inauguration, which ended up being her most iconic work, “On the Pulse of the Morning.”
The day-long conference will be held at the Atlanta Marriot Marquis from 7 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. According to founder Sonjia Young, the conference is “designed to bring women together across generations to share life lessons and experiences that will inspire and empower attendees to transform their lives and be a catalyst for change in the home, community and in the workplace.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Ernie Suggs chatted with the 85-year-old Angelou about the conference and what the inspirations will be.
Why is this particular conference important to you?
It is quite important to women and to girls, but also to men and boys. The program hopes to encourage young women to believe in their own self-worth. When women don’t feel worth, they can’t insist upon it. Then men treat them the way they like. The conference hopes to develop a desire to be worthy of good treatment. And, with that, the health of the family is increased.
If there is a thinking that women are not feeling worthy of anything, when did that shift happen?
The shift is going on now, but it didn’t just start. There was a time when women could not vote or own property – black, white and all persuasions. We have come a long way. We now have women heading important Ivy League colleges. We are thinking about Hillary Clinton in 2016. But that doesn’t mean we have come all the way. It shows that we need to grow in a sense of self-worth and a fair place.
What is it about your writings and words that continue to inspire and motivate people?
I have lived long enough that I should know something. In a few months I will be celebrating my 86th year on this earth. As soon as you know something, you should give it away. I used to think of myself as a writer who could teach. But really, I am a teacher who can write. As soon as you know something and you have tried it, tell it to someone. Also, never fall in love with a position. Have enough courage to change.
Is courage important to you?
Courage is the most important of all of the virtues. Without courage, you can’t practice the others consistently.
You are a teacher, but are you still learning things about life and yourself?
I learned things this week that I didn’t know last week. This is one of the reasons one stays alive and interesting – they continue to learn. It was said that only the educated are free. That doesn’t mean what you know today. But what you are going to believe tomorrow.
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