Virtual Event Celebrates Over 50 Years Of 'I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings'

Virtual Event Celebrates Over 50 Years Of 'I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings'

6:46am Jan 29, 2021
Dr. Maya Angelou was the Z. Smith Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University from 1982 until her death in 2014. Image courtesy: Wake Forest University

A virtual celebration this weekend will honor the legacy of Maya Angelou and pay tribute to her book “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.” The autobiography was published over 50 years ago in 1969.

Saturday’s celebration will be a three-part virtual event. It will include a reading from “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” featuring celebrities like Oprah and Tracee Ellis Ross as well as friends of Angelou’s from her time at Wake Forest University.

In addition to the reading, there will be a live panel discussion featuring Melissa Harris-Perry and others as well as facilitated group discussions. The celebration is free and open to the public.

WFDD’s Bethany Chafin spoke with the organizer of the event, President of the Association of Wake Forest University Black Alumni Kelly Starnes.

Interview Highlights

On Angelou's legacy today:

Looking at her work and her life, I was struck by how Dr. Angelou went through so much. She went through a lot of racism and she experienced a lot of injustice in her life. But one thing she did was to commit herself to learning from each incidence and rising above each one and not giving in to hating the oppressor or those who mistreated her or allow a root of bitterness to develop in her heart, she truly sought to unite communities: Black, white, Christian, Muslim. She truly wanted to see people together and to overcome these challenges that we really face and and truly to be one. She fought for civil rights and she embraced everyone. So, I think that's what we can take from it, that if we see something that's wrong, we seek to fix it and that we never demonize each other in the process, that we look to heal.

On what Starnes learned about Angelou in the process:

One thing that stood out for me with Dr. Angelou is that she did not publish her first book until she was 41. She lived a life of doing a lot of things — jobs that were not that people would not consider creative, but just making ends meet for her and her son, Guy Johnson. But to me, what publishing your first article at 41 says is it is never too late for you to truly do what you love. And that was just a shock to me. Some of the jobs that she held before she started writing: she was a dancer, she was a singer, she had been a prostitute, a madam. She was the first Black female conductor of a trolley car in San Francisco. She was amazing. So those things — just there's one after the other that continue to surprise and excite me about Dr. Maya Angelou.

On what Starnes hopes the event provides:

I know some of us don't see ourselves as people who are big into poetry or literature and are just thinking, 'Well, why am I going to join? Why am I going to tune into this?' And I think that there is something to be said for a life that is well lived, a life that has been embraced, like Dr. Angelou embraced her life, where she embraced people, where she did so much for others. And I think that's why you need to join in and really join in the conversation about life and how it can throw you so many things. But you can still overcome. You can still learn and become better and better, and you can take others along with you. That a reason to join in the conversation and to know more about Dr. Maya Angelou.

*Editor's note: this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Support your
public radio station