Prolific writer Maya Angelou shows little sign of slowing down

Patricia Reaney
18 November 2013
Maya Angelou receives a Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, February 15, 2011. REUTERS/Larry Downin/Files

By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - American author Maya Angelou has written more than 30 books, won numerous awards, released her latest work, "Mom & Me & Mom," earlier this year, and at the age of 85 shows little sign of slowing down.

Best known for her groundbreaking autobiography, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," Angelou is already working on her next book and will be honored at the National Book Awards ceremony on Wednesday, along with "Ragtime" author E. L. Doctorow, for her service to the literary community.

The prolific African-American poet, writer, teacher and Grammy winner for three spoken-word albums, said she is delighted with the accolade and stressed the importance of books and reading.

"I have become a writer and the woman I am in many cases because of the books I have read," she said in an interview from her home in North Carolina.

Angelou believes reading is particularly important in a technological age filled with audio books, social media and smartphones.

"To hold a book in your hand and read it aloud, with your own rhythms and stretches, somehow the story becomes more realistic," she said. "It has a feeling of being a fairy tale when read to, but becomes reality when you read it."

Angelou's "I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings" is a coming-of-age story in a hostile society in the American South in the 1930s and '40s that deals with racism and rape. It is considered an American classic.

But it was her latest autobiography, "Mom & Me & Mom," about her mother and grandmother and what they taught her, that she said was probably the hardest book to write.

"Love heals. If there is any one thing I am saying (in the book) it is love heals," she said. "Her teaching me taught me also to not hesitate, to give love and to forgive. It was a blessing."

In addition to her memoirs and poetry, Angelou has published essays, a children's book and even a cookbook, but her favorite form is poetry.

"I love to work in poetry. It takes me over completely," she said.

Whether there will be another autobiography is still uncertain. She said her next book, "Encounters," will not really be an autobiography, but it will be about meeting people who have influenced her life.

"It will surprise people that I had an encounter with Mr. Mike Tyson and it changed the way I thought about a number of things," she said about the former world heavyweight boxing champion, who is as well known for his troubled personal life as his prowess in the ring.

Her advice for the aspiring writers, authors and the 2013 National Book Award finalists who will be vying for prizes in fiction, non-fiction, poetry and young people's literature is simple: Read out loud.

"Go into a room, close the door and take a book you know, or don't know, and read it aloud. You will hear the melody," she said. (Editing by Eric and David Brunnstrom)

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