On Thursday, September 29th at the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts at James Madison University, performers will honor and pay tribute to the work of acclaimed poet Maya Angelou. Angelou is perhaps best known for her non-fiction work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) and her Pulitzer Prize nominated collection Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Die (1971). Angelou wrote Georgia, Georgia in 1972 becoming the first black woman to have a screenplay produced and received an Emmy nomination for her role on the television series Roots in 1977.
This event is presented by the Furious Flower Poetry Center, the first academic center in the nation dedicated to African American Poetry.
One of America’s most popular poets, Maya Angelou produced an extraordinary body of work that counters despair with “a glorification of life and sensuality which produced a transcendence over all which could otherwise destroy,” according to critic Priscilla Ramsey. Embraced by a wide readership, her poetry uses accessible language and a powerful, incantatory rhythm. MacArthur fellow Edwidge Danticat remarked that Angelou “soars beyond art into the realm of survival. We were not mere consumers of Dr. Angelou’s work; we were fellow travelers on a brutal, exuberant journey.”
Featuring performances by more than 20 acclaimed poets and vocalists, including Sonia Sanchez, Rutha Mae Harris, Sonya Baker, and New Song a cappella singers, this tribute to the late poet echoes Angelou’s own frequent pairing of two art forms, spoken word and spirituals. Those fortunate enough to have seen Angelou perform her poetry were impressed with her vocal virtuosity that resonated with the lyricism of the King James Bible, the cadences of black sermons and traditional spirituals, and the influence of literary figures William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, and James Weldon Johnson, among others. (Want to learn more about the influence of Angelou’s work not only in the U.S. but also in Africa and the Caribbean Join us for a pre-event panel discussion, “Maya Angelou: Poetry That Travels,” on Sept. 22 at 4 p.m. in JMU’s Madison Union.)
JMU’s Furious Flower Poetry Center presents this event in partnership with poet Nikki Giovanni, director of the Steger Poetry Prize at Virginia Tech, as part of Forbes Center for the Performing Arts’ 2016–17 Masterpiece Season. For more information, call 540.568.8883.