She's 81 and growing frail, but revered author and poet Maya Angelou has lost none of her legendary wisdom and humour. In a rare interview, she explainswhy she's not about to retire
By Gary Younge The Guardian, Saturday 14 November 2009
Maya Angelou: 'I plan to keep working as long as I can.' Photograph: Chris Buck
During a trip to Senegal, Maya Angelou called Samia, a friend she had made in Paris several years before, and was invited over for dinner. Passing a room where people apparently clung to the wall to avoid standing on the rug, Angelou became incensed. "I had known a woman in Egypt who would not allow her servants to walk on her rugs, saying that only she, her family and friends were going to wear out her expensive carpets. Samia plummeted in my estimation."
Keen to challenge her host's hauteur, she walked back and forth across the carpet. "The guests who were bunched up on the sidelines smiled at me weakly." Soon afterwards, servants came, rolled up the rug, took it away and brought in a fresh one. Samia then came in and announced that they would be serving one of Senegal's most popular dishes in honour of Angelou: "Yassah, for our sister from America… Shall we sit?" And as the guests went to the floor where glasses, plates, cutlery and napkins were laid out on the carpet, Angelou realised the full extent of her faux pas and was "on fire with shame".
"Clever and so proper Maya Angelou, I had walked up and down over the tablecloth… In an unfamiliar culture, it is wise to offer no innovations, no suggestions, or lessons. The epitome of sophistication is utter simplicity." Such is an example of the 28 short epistles that comprise Letter To My Daughter, Angelou's latest book.
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."
"History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived; however, if faced with courage, need not be lived again."
"Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning."
"Someone was hurt before you, beaten before you, humiliated before you, raped before you; yet someone survived."
"I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver."
"Love is that condition in the human spirit so profound that it allows me to survive, and better than that, to thrive with passion, compassion, and style."
"The main thing in one's own private world is to try to laugh as much as you cry."
"Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns all clean."
"Self-pity in its early stages is as snug as a feather mattress. Only when it hardens does it become uncomfortable."
"If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded."
"Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone."
"We allow our ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone, alone in patches, alone in groups, alone in races, even alone in genders."
"Human beings are more alike than unalike, and what is true anywhere is true everywhere, yet I encourage travel to as many destinations as possible for the sake of education as well as pleasure."
"Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told: "I'm with you kid. Let's go.""
"If you don't like somehting, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain."
"Nothing will work unless you do."
"You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it."
"Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it."
"Being a woman is hard work."
"Nature has no mercy at all. Nature says, I'm going to snow. If you have on a bikini and no snowshoes, that's tough. I am going to snow anyway."
"I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass."
"A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song."
"Living a life is like constructing a building: if you start wrong, you'll end wrong."
"The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change."
"The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself. If we don't have that we never grow, we never learn, and sure as hell we should never teach."
"One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest."
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
"No one wants to travel the dark road of pain alone. We all look to those who went before us for inspiration and hope."
Maya Angelou, poet, epigrammist and philosopher, has completed the final part of her autobiography - it covers the darkest hours of the civil rights movement. For someone in the inspiration and uplift business, it was a hard task. But she managed, as she always does
by Gary Younge The Guardian, Saturday 25 May 2002
Maya Angelou does not like to fly. So she made it to the West Coast from her home in North Carolina by bus. It is 2,152 miles as the crow flies. But she more than trebled the distance, coming via Toronto and the Rockies, on her five-week book and lecture tour. It's not a Greyhound, she quickly explains, but a serious tour bus, complete with a double bed, spare rooms, shower, cooking facilities and satellite television.
The first one she had, which she rented from Prince, had a washer-dryer, too. She herself designed the interior for the next one, which will be delivered before the end of the year. It will be decked out in kente cloth - the hand-woven fabric of Ghana's Ashanti region that has become an aesthetic signifier of black America's African heritage. In the thousands of miles that they have travelled around the country in this bus, she has bumped into Lauryn Hill and passed BB King.
Angelou gave up flying, unless it is really vital, about three years ago. Not because she was afraid, but because she was fed up with the hassle of celebrity. One of the last times she flew, her feet had not made it to the kerbside at the airport before an excitable woman started shouting her name. "It's Maya Angelou, Maya Angelou," she screamed incessantly.
America has not just lost a talented Renaissance woman and a gifted raconteur– it has lost a connection to its recent past
by Gary Younge in Chicago
The Guardian, Wednesday 28 2014
The first time I interviewed Maya Angelou, in 2002, I got hammered. What was supposed to have been a 45-minute interview in a hotel room near Los Angeles had turned into a 16-hour day, much of it spent in her stretch limo, during which we'd been to lunch, and she had performed. On the way back from Pasadena she asked her assistant, Lydia Stuckey, to get out the whisky.
“Do you want ice and stuff?” Stuckey asked.
“I want some ice, but mostly I want stuff,” said Angelou with a smile, and invited me to join her.
On the UK release of Roman Polanski's Venus in Fur Nicholas Blincoe returns to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's novella, a sweetshop of seduction and suspense
by Nicholas Blincoe The Guardian, Friday 23 May 2014
Pulling strings … Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric in Venus in Fur. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar
Roman Polanski´s new film, Venus in Fur, sent me back to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 1870 novella with every intention of writing a stern, authoritative appraisal. Inevitably, I was soon playing around with Google Maps as I plotted a journey from Lviv, the birthplace of Sacher-Masoch; through Nowy Sacz, home to Isidor Isaak Sadger, the psychiatrist who coined the term sadomasochist; to Krakow, the city where Roman Polanski was born. The entire trip would take no more than four hours by car, five tops, through the old kingdom of Galicia, now western Ukraine and Poland.
The term "masochism" first appears in Richard Krafft-Ebing's 1886 forensic reference book,Psychopathia Sexualis. So does "sadism", for that matter, but the Marquis de Sade had been dead for 72 years. Sacher-Masoch was very much alive, and aghast to discover how his name had been used. He was a famous author and social reformer, the editor of On the Highest, a radical magazine that fought for Jewish rights and female emancipation. Suddenly, he was a sexual preference. The term stuck. No one who has read Venus in Furswill be surprised to learn that Sacher-Masoch was a masochist, who was moderately successful at encouraging women to play along. Without his talent for persuasion, he might have been a very unhappy man – and he would certainly not have been a writer, because his gift for making the dubious seem plausible lies at the heart of his work. In Venus in Furs, Severin von Kusiemski convinces the lively and affectionate Wanda von Dunajew that her true, hidden self that he adores is cold and cruel. Wanda obliging turns herself into an ice queen. Sacher-Masoch is the kind of slave who is forever pulling the strings.
Roman Polanski writes foreword to book about murdered wife, Sharon Tate
Jane Fonda and Joan Collins also contribute to volume about actor, who was killed by followers of Charles Manson in 1969
Ben Child The Guardian, Tuesday 27 May 2013
Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate in 1969, the year she was killed at her LA home by members of Charles Manson's 'family'. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
The Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski has written the foreword to a forthcoming book about the life of his murdered wife, Sharon Tate, reports the New York Post..
Tate was killed by followers of Charles Manson in 1969, along with three friends who were staying with her at the Los Angeles home she shared with her husband. The 26-year-old actor was due to give birth just two weeks after her death.
Polanski, who was out of town when the attacks took place, writes in the foreword: "Even after 40 years, it is difficult to write about Sharon. It is impossible, of course, to imagine what might have been if Sharon had lived. But this book allows me to remember what was."
The book, titled Recollection, has been put together by Sharon's sister Debra and will be published in the US next month. It also features contributions from its subject's co-stars on the 1967 cult drama Valley of the Dolls, Patty Duke, Joan Collins and Jane Fonda. The last writes: "She was very pregnant the last time I saw her at that house and turned down a joint that was being passed around."
We went up on deck
after dinner. Before us the Mediterranean lay without a ripple and shimmering
in the moonlight. The great ship glided on, casting upward to the star-studded
sky a long serpent of black smoke. Behind us the dazzling white water, stirred
by the rapid progress of the heavy bark and beaten by the propeller, foamed,
seemed to writhe, gave off so much brilliancy that one could have called it boiling
For several days in succession fragments of a
defeated army had passed through the town. They were mere disorganized bands,
not disciplined forces. The men wore long, dirty beards and tattered uniforms;
they advanced in listless fashion, without a flag, without a leader. All seemed
exhausted, worn out, incapable of thought or resolve, marching onward merely by
force of habit, and dropping to the ground with fatigue the moment they halted.
One saw, in particular, many enlisted men, peaceful citizens, men who lived
quietly on their income, bending beneath the weight of their rifles; and little
active volunteers, easily frightened but full of enthusiasm, as eager to attack
as they were ready to take to flight; and amid these, a sprinkling of
red-breeched soldiers, the pitiful remnant of a division cut down in a great battle;
somber artillerymen, side by side with nondescript foot-soldiers; and, here and
there, the gleaming helmet of a heavy-footed dragoon who had difficulty in
keeping up with the quicker pace of the soldiers of the line. Legions of
irregulars with high-sounding names “Avengers of Defeat,” “Citizens of the
Tomb,” “Brethren in Death”— passed in their turn, looking like banditti. Their
leaders, former drapers or grain merchants, or tallow or soap chandlers —
warriors by force of circumstances, officers by reason of their mustachios or
their money — covered with weapons, flannel and gold lace, spoke in an
impressive manner, discussed plans of campaign, and behaved as though they
alone bore the fortunes of dying France on their braggart shoulders; though, in
truth, they frequently were afraid of their own men — scoundrels often brave
beyond measure, but pillagers and debauchees.
For 15 years, the great artist took breakfast and lunch at Sally Clarke's cafe-restaurant. Here, she recalls the man she fed… and eventually sat for
'Intense': Working at Night, 2005, a photograph by Freud's assistant David Dawson, shows the artist at work in his London studio. Photograph: David Dawson/ courtesy of Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert
Mr Freud started coming to the little cafe at the back of my shop about 15 years ago. I didn't know it then, but he worked close by in a studio in Holland Park, so we were quite convenient for him. Soon after this, he bought a house a few doors along the street from us and from then on became more and more of a regular. He would come for breakfast and lunch often, bringing with him whoever he was working with at the time – Leigh Bowery, Kate Moss, David Hockney.
There came a time, however, when I realised that there was a risk that he might be bothered in the cafe, so I decided to offer him a table in the restaurant, which was empty at that time of day, and at the same time I could make sure that he was somewhat "wrapped in cotton wool". I should say that he never asked for this special treatment.
If David Dawson, his studio assistant and model, was with him, breakfast tended to be centred around a pile of newspapers – but he would be perfectly happy by himself. What he ate for breakfast with us changed over the years, but it was Earl Grey tea in the beginning with milk and ahuge pain aux raisins – the size of a saucer – which he devoured easily. As the years went on, he graduated to coffee, a sort of latte which we called a Mr Freud latte, being even milkier than normal.
Often, he would invite me to join him and David – I loved watching him enjoy the little Portuguese custard tarts that we make. He had a very sweet tooth. Sometimes, he would consume a whole bar of our homemade nougat – at breakfast time! Occasionally, I'd make him scrambled eggs with toast; at weekends, he would come in for brunch.
For lunch, he would always choose fish – whichever fish was on the menu. He was very interested in food and I think he was a good cook himself. He loved game and I remember one day Brigadier Parker Bowles brought him some partridge from the weekend shoot and he threw them straight into the oven and ate them the following day.
The first time we spoke properly was soon after he had moved house. He came to the restaurant one afternoon and asked to see me. He told me that he was having problems with his neighbours and wanted some planning permission advice. I'm not sure why he asked me, but what struck me more than anything, aside from just how charming, polite and lovely he was, was his German accent. It was dramatic – very guttural and individual.
I sat for him for three works. For the first painting, David Dawson asked to see me alone at my restaurant one morning. "Lucian is wondering if you would like to sit for him." This came as an enormous shock, but a few months later I was sitting in one of the most famous chairs in the world, looking through tall, wide French windows, into and over buddleia, bamboo hedges, a fig tree and bay trees. I had somehow imagined the house to be filled with music, but other than an abundance of sweet-smelling flowers, the house was filled with silence, concentration, thinking and looking – intent looking.
Within a short time, I learned the signals he gave; his hand moved to the top of his head equalled "move the top of your head over a fraction". His hand sweeping in front like an elegant tennis forehand meant "adjust the angle of your head very slightly". It was about detail, detail, detail. For such fine work, of face, hair or eyelid, the brush size seemed huge and yet the strokes on the canvas were light, delicate and few.
I had planned to spend my "sitting" time writing future menus in my head, checking my diary or making "to do" lists during the rest periods, but I soon realised that I was wishing to work as hard, and as intensely, as he was. This was a partnership: one giving and the other taking, but that taking was also giving – giving his all, and in return for the sitter's giving, a most special, unique and privileged experience was received.
The painting was finished three years ago, and very soon after this I sat for what was to be an etching, but he decided to keep drawing and drawing on the plate instead, so it was never etched. Then he started on another head and shoulder painting on canvas, which was about half finished, I think, when we stopped working, only a few weeks before his death.
Of course I miss him. I got very used to seeing him every day. Arriving in the morning, I would often walk past the restaurant and see him through the window, already sitting having breakfast and he would wave with his arms high above his head.