Maya Angelou, the first speaker in Butler University’s Celebration of Diversity Distinguished Lecture Series, will reprise that role at 7:30 p.m. March 26 in Clowes Memorial Hall as part of the series’ 25th anniversary.
The event is free, but tickets are required. They will be available to the public beginning at 10 a.m. Feb. 15 at the Clowes Hall box office, 317-940-6444, and through Ticketmaster (fees apply).
Angelou, who inaugurated the diversity series in 1988, is one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time. Hailed as a global renaissance woman, she is a celebrated poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker and civil rights activist.
“On Feb. 4, 1988, Maya Angelou graced the stage of Clowes Memorial Hall for the inaugural event of the Celebration of Diversity Distinguished Lecture Series,” recalled Valerie Davidson, Butler’s director of diversity programs. “The capacity crowd was captivated by her warmth, stature and eloquence. As the presenter, I was captivated to simply be in her presence.
“I cannot imagine a more appropriate way to celebrate the Diversity Lecture Series and our 25-year legacy of presenting distinctive voices to the Butler and greater Indianapolis community than to once again present the distinctive voice that began this phenomenal dialogue.”
Born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Mo., Angelou was raised in St. Louis and Stamps, Ark. In Stamps, Angelou experienced the brutality of racial discrimination, but she also absorbed the unshakable faith and values of traditional African-American family, community and culture.
As a teenager, Angelou’s love for the arts won her a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School. At 14, she dropped out to become San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor. She later finished high school, giving birth to her son, Guy, a few weeks after graduation. As a young single mother, she supported her son by working as a waitress and cook. However, her passion for music, dance, performance and poetry would soon take center stage.
In 1954 and 1955, Angelou toured Europe with a production of the opera “Porgy and Bess.” She studied modern dance with Martha Graham, danced with Alvin Ailey on television variety shows and, in 1957, recorded her first album, “Calypso Lady.” In 1958, she moved to New York, where she joined the Harlem Writers Guild, acted in the historic Off-Broadway production of Jean Genet's “The Blacks” and wrote and performed “Cabaret for Freedom.”
In 1960, Angelou moved to Cairo, Egypt, where she served as editor of the English language weekly The Arab Observer. The next year, she moved to Ghana where she taught at the University of Ghana'’s School of Music and Drama, worked as feature editor for The African Review and wrote for The Ghanaian Times.
During her years abroad, Angelou read and studied voraciously, mastering French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, and the West African language Fanti. While in Ghana, she met with Malcolm X and, in 1964, returned to America to help him build his new Organization of African American Unity.
Shortly after her arrival in the United States, Malcolm X was assassinated, and the organization dissolved. Soon after X’s assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. asked Angelou to serve as northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King’s assassination, falling on her birthday in 1968, left her devastated.
With the guidance of her friend the novelist James Baldwin, she began work on the book that would become I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which was published in 1970 to international acclaim and enormous popular success. The list of her published verse, non-fiction, and fiction now includes more than 30 bestselling titles.
A trailblazer in film and television, Angelou wrote the screenplay and composed the score for the 1972 film “Georgia, Georgia.” Her script, the first by an African-American woman ever to be filmed, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
She continues to appear on television and in films including the landmark television adaptation of Alex Haley’s “Roots” (1977) and John Singleton’s “Poetic Justice” (1993). In 1996, she directed her first feature film, “Down in the Delta.” In 2008, she composed poetry for and narrated the award-winning documentary “The Black Candle,” directed by M.K. Asante.
Angelou has served on two presidential committees, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and has received three Grammy Awards. President Clinton requested that she compose a poem to read at his inauguration in 1993. Angelou’s reading of her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning” was broadcast live around the world.
Angelou has received more than 30 honorary degrees and is Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.