Maya Angelou burst onto the Lycoming College stage dancing! It was the mid-eighties, and I was attending the writer’s conference with my then-husband. The series included Marge Piercy, Judith Viorst, Alice Walker, and, of course, Maya Angelou. Even in the mid-eighties these were well-known writers, and my excitement at seeing them in person—for FREE!—knew no bounds.
Maya was the most memorable speaker, not only because she was stately, with a wonderful voice, but because she danced up to the podium instead of walking. On her website, mayaangelou.com, we can read that dancing was a very important part of her early life. I had already read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, about her sexual abuse and her refusal to speak for years. But the Maya on stage was a jovial, fun-loving Maya. She recited for us the snappy “Health-Food Diner.” Here’s one stanza:
Loins of pork and chicken thighs
And standing rib, so prime,
Pork chops brown and fresh ground round
(I crave them all the time).
My husband I were sitting in the front seat, and we roared. At the end of the recitation, she pointed to us and said, “I bet you’re vegetarians.” We nodded “yes” and laughed again.
Maya’s website calls her a Global Renaissance Woman, and her biography on the site testifies to that. She is a poet, novelist, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer, director . . . and dancer!
This poem is iconoclastic, according to twenty-first-century “wisdom” about nutrition. (Consider these lines: Uncooked kale and bodies frail/Are sure to make me run.) I’ve had this poem in my files since the mid-eighties. I found it in late January, and I do not think this was a coincidence. I found it just in time for Black History Month.