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Thread: It's Raining Caged Birds

  1. #1
    Peaceful Oasis TomAz's Avatar
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    Default It's Raining Caged Birds

    Maya Angelou, the memoirist and poet whose landmark book of 1969, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” — which describes in lyrical, unsparing prose her childhood in the Jim Crow South — was among the first autobiographies by a 20th-century black woman to reach a wide general readership, died on Wednesday in her home. She was 86 and lived in Winston-Salem, N.C.

    Her death was confirmed by her longtime literary agent, Helen Brann. No immediate cause of death had been determined, but Ms. Brann said Ms. Angelou had been in frail health for some time and had had heart problems.

    As well known as she was for her memoirs, which eventually filled six volumes, Ms. Angelou very likely received her widest exposure on a chilly January day in 1993, when she delivered the inaugural poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” at the swearing-in of Bill Clinton, the nation’s 42nd president, who, like Ms. Angelou, had grown up poor in rural Arkansas.

    It began:

    A Rock, A River, A Tree

    Hosts to species long since departed,

    Marked the mastodon,

    The dinosaur, who left dried tokens

    Of their sojourn here

    On our planet floor,

    Any broad alarm of their hastening doom

    Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

    But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,

    Come, you may stand upon my

    Back and face your distant destiny,

    But seek no haven in my shadow,

    I will give you no hiding place down here.

    Long before that day, as she recounted in “Caged Bird” and its five sequels, she had already been a dancer, calypso singer, streetcar conductor, single mother, magazine editor in Cairo, administrative assistant in Ghana, official of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and friend or associate of some of the most eminent black Americans of the mid-20th century, including James Baldwin, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

    Afterward (her six-volume memoir takes her only to the age of 40), Ms. Angelou (pronounced AHN-zhe-lo) was a Tony-nominated stage actress; college professor (she was for many years the Reynolds professor of American studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem); ubiquitous presence on the lecture circuit; frequent guest on television shows, from “Oprah” to “Sesame Street”; and subject of a string of scholarly studies.

    In February 2011, President Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.

    Throughout her writing, Ms. Angelou explored the concepts of personal identity and resilience through the multifaceted lens of race, sex, family, community and the collective past. As a whole, her work offered a cleareyed examination of the ways in which the socially marginalizing forces of racism and sexism played out at the level of the individual.

    “If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat,” Ms. Angelou wrote in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

    Hallmarks of Ms. Angelou’s prose style included a directness of voice that recalls African-American oral tradition and gives her work the quality of testimony. She was also intimately concerned with sensation, describing the world around her — be it Arkansas, San Francisco or the foreign cities in which she lived — with palpable feeling for its sights, sounds and smells.

    “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” published when Ms. Angelou was in her early 40s, spans only her first 17 years. But what powerfully formative years they were.

    Marguerite Ann Johnson was born in St. Louis on April 4, 1928. (For years after Dr. King’s assassination, on April 4, 1968, Ms. Angelou did not celebrate her birthday.) Her dashing, defeated father, Bailey Johnson Sr., a Navy dietitian, “was a lonely person, searching relentlessly in bottles, under women’s skirts, in church work and lofty job titles for his ‘personal niche,’ lost before birth and unrecovered since,” Ms. Angelou wrote. “How maddening it was to have been born in a cotton field with aspirations of grandeur.”

    Her beautiful, volatile mother, Vivian Baxter, was variously a nurse, hotel owner and card dealer. As a girl, Ms. Angelou was known as Rita, Ritie or Maya, her older brother’s childhood nickname for her.

    After her parents’ marriage ended, 3-year-old Maya was sent with her 4-year-old brother, Bailey, to live with their father’s mother in the tiny town of Stamps, Ark., which, she later wrote, “with its dust and hate and narrowness was as South as it was possible to get.”

    Their grandmother, Annie Henderson, owned a general store “in the heart of the Negro area,” Ms. Angelou wrote. An upright woman known as Momma, “with her solid air packed around her like cotton,” she is a warm, stabilizing presence throughout “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

    The children returned periodically to St. Louis to live with their mother. On one such occasion, when Maya was 7 or 8 (her age varies slightly across her memoirs, which employ the techniques of fiction to recount actual events), she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend.

    She told her brother, who alerted the family, and the man was tried and convicted. Before he could begin serving his sentence, he was murdered — probably, Ms. Angelou wrote, by her uncles.

    Believing that her words had brought about the death, Maya did not speak for the next five years. Her love of literature, as she later wrote, helped restore language to her.

    As a teenager, now living with her mother in San Francisco, she studied dance and drama at the California Labor School and became the first black woman to work as a streetcar conductor there. At 16, after a casual liaison with a neighborhood youth, she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. There the first book ends.

    Reviewing “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” in The New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt called it “a carefully wrought, simultaneously touching and comic memoir.”

    The book — its title is a line from “Sympathy,” by the African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar — became a best seller, confounding the pervasive stereotype that black women’s lives were unworthy of memoir.

    The next five volumes of Ms. Angelou’s memoir, all, like the first, originally published by Random House, were “Gather Together in My Name” (1974), “Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas” (1976), “The Heart of a Woman” (1981), “All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes” (1986) and “A Song Flung Up to Heaven” (2002).

    Together they describe her struggles to support her son through a series of odd jobs. “Determined to raise him, I had worked as a shake dancer in nightclubs, fry cook in hamburger joints, dinner cook in a Creole restaurant and once had a job in a mechanic’s shop, taking paint off cars with my hands,” she wrote in “Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas.” Elsewhere, she describes her brief unsuccessful stint as a prostitute and brief successful one as a madam.

    Ms. Angelou goes on to recount her marriage to a Greek sailor, Tosh Angelos. (Throughout her life, she was circumspect about the number of times she was married — it appears to have been at least three — for fear, she said, of appearing frivolous.)

    After the marriage dissolved, she embarked on a career as a calypso dancer and singer under the name Maya Angelou, a variant of her married name. A striking stage presence — she was six feet tall — she occasionally partnered in San Francisco with Alvin Ailey in a nightclub dance act known as Al and Rita.

    She was cast in the Truman Capote-Harold Arlen musical “House of Flowers,” which opened on Broadway in 1954. But she chose instead to tour the world as a featured dancer in a production of “Porgy and Bess” by the Everyman Opera Company, a black ensemble.

    Ms. Angelou later settled in New York, where she became active in the Harlem Writers Guild (she hoped to be a poet and playwright), sang at the Apollo and eventually succeeded Bayard Rustin as the coordinator of the New York office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization that he, Dr. King and others had founded.

    In the early 1960s, Ms. Angelou became romantically involved with Vusumzi L. Make, a South African civil rights activist. She moved with him to Cairo, where she became the associate editor of a magazine, The Arab Observer. After leaving Mr. Make — she found him paternalistic and controlling, she later wrote — she moved to Accra, Ghana, where she was an administrative assistant at the University of Ghana.

    On returning to New York, Ms. Angelou helped Malcolm X set up the Organization of Afro-American Unity, established in 1964. The group dissolved after his assassination the next year.

    In 1973, Ms. Angelou appeared on Broadway in “Look Away,” a two-character play about Mary Todd Lincoln (played by Geraldine Page) and her seamstress. Though the play closed after one performance, Ms. Angelou was nominated for a Tony Award. On the screen, she portrayed Kunta Kinte’s grandmother in the 1977 television mini-series “Roots” and appeared in several feature films, including “How to Make an American Quilt” (1995).

    Ms. Angelou’s marriage in the 1970s to Paul du Feu, who had previously been wed to the feminist writer Germaine Greer, ended in divorce. Survivors include her son, Guy Johnson, three grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

    Over time, some critics expressed reservations about Ms. Angelou’s prose, calling it facile and solipsistic. Her importance as a literary, cultural and historical figure was amply borne out, however, by the many laurels she received, including a slew of honorary doctorates.

    Her other books include the volumes of poetry “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie” (1971), “Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well” (1975); “And Still I Rise” (1978) and “Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing?” (1983).

    She released an album of songs, “Miss Calypso,” in 1957.

    But she remained best known for her memoirs, a striking fact in that she had never set out to be a memoirist. Near the end of “A Song Flung Up to Heaven,” Ms. Angelou recalls her response when Robert Loomis, who would become her longtime editor at Random House, first asked her to write an autobiography.

    She demurred at first, still planning to be a playwright and poet. Cannily, Mr. Loomis called her again.

    “You may be right not to attempt autobiography, because it is nearly impossible to write autobiography as literature,” he said. “Almost impossible.”

    “I’ll start tomorrow,” Ms. Angelou replied.

  2. #2
    Coachella Junkie algunz's Avatar
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    Default Re: It's Raining Caged Birds


    She was such an amazing woman.

  3. #3
    Coachella Junkie algunz's Avatar
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    Default Re: It's Raining Caged Birds

    You may write me down in history
    With your bitter, twisted lies,
    You may tread me in the very dirt
    But still, like dust, I'll rise.

    Does my sassiness upset you?
    Why are you beset with gloom?
    'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
    Pumping in my living room.

    Just like moons and like suns,
    With the certainty of tides,
    Just like hopes springing high,
    Still I'll rise.

    Did you want to see me broken?
    Bowed head and lowered eyes?
    Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
    Weakened by my soulful cries.

    Does my haughtiness offend you?
    Don't you take it awful hard
    'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
    Diggin' in my own back yard.

    You may shoot me with your words,
    You may cut me with your eyes,
    You may kill me with your hatefulness,
    But still, like air, I'll rise.

    Does my sexiness upset you?
    Does it come as a surprise
    That I dance like I've got diamonds
    At the meeting of my thighs?

    Out of the huts of history's shame
    I rise
    Up from a past that's rooted in pain
    I rise
    I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
    Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
    Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
    I rise
    Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
    I rise
    Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
    I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
    I rise
    I rise
    I rise.

  4. #4
    Member ELIZA83TH's Avatar
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    Default Re: It's Raining Caged Birds

    RIP Maya Angelou.

    Her work was introduced to me by arguably the most influential woman in my life at a time I needed it most, and Angelou has stuck with me ever since.
    I can always read her stuff if/when I'm having a bad day or going through a rough time.
    So sad, but she leaves behind a legacy of love, tolerance, and kindness.
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    a cunt punt is always the best solution to cure someone of their bitchassness
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    You can't go in until late on the first day because you can't hang?
    You giant pussy.

  5. #5
    old school ThatGirl's Avatar
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    Default Re: It's Raining Caged Birds

    RIP. The world needs more of her wisdom.
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    It's all riding on this. You've got big dreams to ride to the top of the Flash Mob world. Well internet fame costs. And right now is when you start paying for sweat.
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    hey. get your own colonoscopy thread, bitch.

  6. #6
    Coachella Junkie stinkbutt's Avatar
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    Default Re: It's Raining Caged Birds


    Prepare for the internet to be insufferable for a week

  7. #7
    ankle biter guedita's Avatar
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    Default Re: It's Raining Caged Birds

    I wrote a paper on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings freshman year of highschool. My thesis was more or less, "I get it, but my god, I wish she'd shut up already." One of my teacher's notes was that I needed to learn and employ synonyms for "overwrought."

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  8. #8

    Default Re: It's Raining Caged Birds

    I recall the Fionna Apple acceptance speech "this world is bullshit."

  9. #9
    Member Baby Sandwich's Avatar
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    Default Re: It's Raining Caged Birds

  10. #10
    Coachella Junkie fatbastard's Avatar
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    Default Re: It's Raining Caged Birds

    Whiskey Sour

    2 oz blended whiskey
    Juice of 1/2 lemon
    1/2 tsp powdered sugar
    1 cherry
    1/2 slice lemon

    Shake blended whiskey, juice of lemon, and powdered sugar with ice and strain into a whiskey sour glass. Decorate with the half-slice of lemon, top with the cherry, and serve.

  11. #11
    Coachella Junkie fikus222's Avatar
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    Default Re: It's Raining Caged Birds

    Little known fact, Maya Angelou, was the first Black female rail car operator in San Francisco. Most likely on the 7-Haight line pictured above. Judging from some of her interviews I've seen, when she was behind the stick, I'm sure it was in your best interest to have your fare ready right away.
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  12. #12
    Coachella Junkie fatbastard's Avatar
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    Default Re: It's Raining Caged Birds

    A Way With Words and a Spice Rack
    Recalling Maya Angelou’s Love of Cooking

    JUNE 2, 2014

    Maya Angelou in the kitchen of the Sugar Bar restaurant in New York in 1997. Credit Rob Schoenbaum/Associated Press

    I remember the first time I was in the kitchen with Maya Angelou. It happened in Sonoma, Calif., some 40 years ago. A mutual friend had been invited to spend a week, and I trailed along. Ms. Angelou maintained a home in that Mediterranean-looking town of red tile roofs in the wine country, complete with a guest suite in which we were comfortably ensconced. At dinnertime we walked up to the main house.

    The kitchen had an open plan, with a fireplace in the dining area, and I remember her burning lavender in a fire shovel, which perfumed the entire space in an aromatic prelude to what was to come.

    Then it was time to cook; the meal was a 12-boy curry. She explained that the dish, a British colonial curry, was named for the number of servants who would carry the condiments to the table; the more boys, the more prestigious the curry.

    I do not remember all of the 12 condiments (or if in fact there were 12), but they ranged from chopped peanuts to Major Grey’s chutney. I do not remember the tastes of the food, only that they were richly varied and deeply satisfying.

    Dr. Angelou preparing a beef marinade in Winston-Salem, N.C. Credit Will McIntyre/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
    What I do recall is the preparation. Her cooking was a virtuoso presentation that was part monologue, part dance routine, totally engaging and absolutely fascinating. There was a snippet of a song from a musical comedy at one point, a twist and a boogie at another and a flourish or two as a spice was added. It was a whole new form of dinner theater: a bravura performance calculated to astonish and delight. I was captivated, and from then on remained in her thrall.
    In the days since Maya Angelou died last Wednesday at 86, much has been written about her poetry, plays and memoirs, but little about her skills as an accomplished cook, cookbook writer and home entertainer (in both senses of the word). At that first meal I had yet to start my own career as a food historian, but I got an early glimpse of her deep love and understanding of food, and how passionately she enjoyed sharing it.
    Over the years there were many other memorable meals: dinners at Paparazzi, an East Side restaurant run by her manager; house parties in large apartments on the West Side; takeout from El Faro in the West Village; and home-cooked fare at the apartments of friends and members of a group that included Jimmy Baldwin, Paule Marshall, Louise Meriwether, Rosa Guy, Nina Simone and Toni Morrison.

    After the 1970s and ’80s, I was never again in the center of her life in that way, but rather a constant on the periphery. Increasingly, though, we bonded over our love of good food, good cooking and the culture that is carried therein. So I was in no way surprised in 2004, when she wrote her first cookbook, “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes,” that it mixed recipes and recounting. In print, it replicated the astonishing performance I had seen decades earlier.
    Gourmet without being gourmand, she became conscious of her weight in later years. When I sit to table, I always remember her advice on dieting.
    “I take a bite or two of something,” she said. “Then I say to myself, ‘Now I know what that tastes like, I don’t have to devour it all.’ ” It’s excellent advice, but requires amazing self-discipline.

    Until the end, she retained a questing curiosity about culinary cultures. Despite a virulent seafood allergy, she loved eating in restaurants where she knew she was safe. She had traveled the world and retained many of its flavors in her taste buds. She cooked recipes from all over, not only items from her vast collection of cookbooks but also her own dishes, created from loving the way two ingredients combined, the way a spice set off a meat or vegetable, or simply the coordinated colors that they formed on the plate.

    She especially excelled at traditional African-American foods. The slow-cooked country dishes of her youth were not just the soul-nourishing fare that she occasionally craved; she also delighted in the fact that they also represented tradition, history, connectedness.

    Dr. Angelou (her preferred appellation) loved entertaining large groups or small. Her larder was always prepared for a party, and she was the kind of cook who knew just how to put things together, effortlessly entertaining with stories and tall tales while the cooking went on. Her house in Winston-Salem, N.C., was vast, and her pride was its formal dining room and the enormous outdoor entertainment area, in which she joyously hosted gatherings with frequency. Her annual Thanksgiving celebration there was legendary.

    She also regaled her wide circle of friends in New York with an annual New Year’s Day feast for which she cooked all of the traditional items: black-eyed peas, ham, roast chicken, greens, rice, candied sweet potatoes and more. For several years I made a point of attending, but I had never been to visit in North Carolina; I was just more comfortable with our one-to-one relationship and content with my spot at the margins of her life.

    This year, though, an engagement took me to a conference in Greensboro, and I skipped many of the sessions to visit her in Winston-Salem. She was seated at her kitchen table dressed in a brightly hued African dress; there was a stack of clipped New York Times crossword puzzles at her right hand, an open book and a yellow pad of paper at her left, and her often-present glass of Scotch within easy reach.

    Although tethered to the oxygen machine that had been her constant for years, she remained imperious and imperial: the phenomenal woman at home. It was lunchtime, and she felt like having chicken salad. Small bowls appeared, the mise en place for the salad: chicken stripped from the carcass, minced celery, a bit of minced onion, mayonnaise, salt and pepper.

    She parsed them out, mixed them together, tested and tasted, verifying flavor and consistency. It was missing something, she decided — mustard. The appropriate mustard was produced and added, a final taste was made and it was pronounced ready and served up.

    It was perfection. It was lunch. It was our last meal together.

    Jessica B. Harris is a food historian, an English professor at Queens College and author of 12 cookbooks on the food of the African diaspora.

    “The Health-Food Diner,” by Maya Angelou

    No sprouted wheat and soya shoots
    And Brussels in a cake,
    Carrot straw and spinach raw,
    (Today, I need a steak).
    Not thick brown rice and rice pilaw
    Or mushrooms creamed on toast,
    Turnips mashed and parsnips hashed,
    (I’m dreaming of a roast).
    Health-food folks around the world
    Are thinned by anxious zeal,
    They look for help in seafood kelp
    (I count on breaded veal).
    No smoking signs, raw mustard greens,
    Zucchini by the ton,
    Uncooked kale and bodies frail
    Are sure to make me run
    Loins of pork and chicken thighs
    And standing rib, so prime,
    Pork chops brown and fresh ground round
    (I crave them all the time).
    Irish stews and boiled corned beef
    and hot dogs by the scores,
    or any place that saves a space
    For smoking carnivores.

    Reprinted from “Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing?” (1983) by permission of Random House.
    Whiskey Sour

    2 oz blended whiskey
    Juice of 1/2 lemon
    1/2 tsp powdered sugar
    1 cherry
    1/2 slice lemon

    Shake blended whiskey, juice of lemon, and powdered sugar with ice and strain into a whiskey sour glass. Decorate with the half-slice of lemon, top with the cherry, and serve.

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