What You Need To Know: Maya Angelou

Woman from viral Maya Angelou clip reflects on calling poet by first name

“I remember feeling like, oh my gosh I insulted one of my icons”

Last week, an old clip of Maya Angelou correcting a student for calling her by her first name went viral. Now, the young lady featured in the clip is speaking out.

» RELATED: Clip of Maya Angelou correcting student for calling her by her first name sparks Twitter debate

Kim Watts, who is now a 49-year-old educator in the San Francisco Bay area, told the The Associated Press she happened to become an audience member on a taping of the show “People are Talking” while on a class trip with fellow college students.

When she had an opportunity to speak to Angelou, the then 20-year-old asked her about interracial dating, calling her by her first name. 

“Thank you,” Angelou responded. “And first, I’m Ms. Angelou. I’m not Maya. I’m 62 years old. I’ve lived so long and tried so hard that a young woman like you, or any other, has no license to come up to me and call me by my first name.”

Angelou later apologized for her delivery. 


When the clip resurfaced on Twitter last week thanks to user @PrinceCharmingP, it sparked a debate on respect and generational and cultural differences. While some thought Angelou’s response was rude, others said her reply was appropriate due to her age and legacy. Angelou died in 2014 at 86.

Watts, who does not have a Twitter but was alerted about the big debate by family and friends, said she understands both sides. 

“I like that this conversation, though, is focused on respect. Given my age now, I can see both sides of it,” she told the AP. But at the time, she admitted Angelou’s response was a little surprising. 

“It was a little awkward for me, but at the same time it was like, oh my God this is Maya Angelou,” Watts said. “I remember feeling like, oh my gosh I insulted one of my icons, a person I look up to.”

Watts said she was adopted by a white family and was not raised to address adults with courtesy titles, such as “Mr.,” ″Miss” or “Mrs.”

Read Watts’ full interview here

» RELATED: 7 inspiring quotes to remember from Maya Angelou

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