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Maya Angelou inspires at Randolph College

Maya Angelou encouraged more than 1,000 listeners at Randolph College to discover poetry and see how “it has kept us alive.”

Angelou, a famous poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist, spent about an hour Tuesday night telling stories from her life and reciting poems that are meaningful to her. The audience laughed and cried as she shared stories of humor, despair, and hope.

“You need to know the poetry. You need to have it in your hands,” she said. “The poetry you read has been written for you—each of you.”

Maya Angelou speaks at Randolph College
John E. Klein, president of Randolph College, gives Maya Angelou a copy of a book about the garden
of Anne Spencer, a well-known African American poet who lived not far from the College.

The College hosted Angelou Tuesday, January 29, so Randolph students and others from the community could learn from the experiences and wisdom she would share. Smith Memorial Hall was packed with Randolph students, faculty, and staff; students from area schools, and the greater Lynchburg community as well as visitors from outside of Lynchburg.

Angelou encouraged them to go to a library and find a book of poetry, particularly poetry by African Americans. She specifically recommended Paul Laurence Dunbar, and she recited his poem “Sympathy,” from whose lines she drew the titles for several books, including I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

She told the humorous story behind her lighthearted poem “The Health Food Diner,” and she talked of her love for the works of William Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe. The audience cheered with delight and laughter as she demonstrated how Poe’s “The Raven” should be recited like a rap lyric.

Angelou reflected on the privilege of being able to give hope and knowledge to others through her writing. “When you know, you can teach. When you get, you can give,” Angelou said. “I used to think I’m a writer who can teach; I’ve found I’m a teacher who can write.”

Randolph students were delighted to see and hear Angelou. Cameron Hall ’13 was impressed with the friendliness and graciousness Angelou exhibited. “My favorite part was the general feeling that Maya Angelou was as happy and excited to see us as we were to see her,” he said.

Grace Gardiner ’15 enjoyed hearing Angelou recite poetry. “To hear her able to recall powerful words and images from memory, as well as boom out these words and images in a voice so deep and thoughtful as her own, was a true treat,” she said.

Katie West-Hazlewood ’13 appreciated how Angelou tailored her comments towards College students and other young members of the audience. “She recognized that we are going through struggles, but assured us that others have, too; therefore we would be able to get through it as well,” she said. “We are at such a transitional point in our lives and hearing that was very inspiring.”

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