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Lions Roar : May 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2009 67 think my basic aesthetic, as a person as well as an artist, is minimal- ist, because of the prairies. Ornamentation, I think, is an urban aes- thetic. I would venture to say that it is an African-American urban sort of thing. I think it stemmed from the gospel. That is not my background, who I am, my history. When you hear Mahalia Jackson or early Stevie Wonder or early Aretha Franklin, or early gospel singers, that’s a very pure, beautiful thing. It’s real. Now, music with a lot of ornamentation is often a caricature of that pure form. It’s fraudulent. If it’s not too strange to ask, what is it like being able to sing like you do? On a purely mundane level, it is totally mind-blowing to have this sound come out of my body. It feels like a whole ocean of surfers are available to me at any given moment to open up my voice and play around with a melody. It does blow my mind. MARCh, 2008 bell hooks & Maya Angleou bell hooks: I realize that what a number of African-American women writers have in common is not just that we’re black, but that we came from harsh and difficult circumstances. We were on the bottom of this society’s class totem pole at some point in time. I think that is as much a factor as race, where we were positioned class-wise-and geographically, because those women, we were all southerners. Maya Angelou: That’s true, very true. Well, there’s a sardonic line in a nine- teenth-century blues song: “I was down so low, gettin’ up stayed on my mind.” Very true, too. There’s no place to go but up. Also, there’s somebody who went before us. Those grandmothers and great grandmothers, and grand- fathers and uncles and fathers, told us, “You’re the best we have.” This didn’t happen so much in your generation, but in my gen- eration one was told, “You represent the race.” And my goodness, that was a piece of a burden, and a wonderful chore, a wonderful charge. You have to go out there and represent the race. So, one, we had very little choice about it, and two, there was a willing- ness, a volunteerism, to do the best you could. bell hooks: I think that contemporary black women writ- ers have been willing to risk telling things about their lives that other people haven’t been willing to tell. I sat with a group of women last night and I was telling them about Maya Angelou writing about sexuality for the over-sixty and the over-seventy. everyone admitted that hardly any- one touches upon that. Maya begins from the place of her mother’s experience, and then from her experience; I think that willingness to share allows one to teach in a very different way. Maya Angelou: The idea that closing one’s eyes and stick- ing one’s head into the sand, as the ostriches are accused of doing, will make the bugaboo go away has never been one of the escapes for the black woman. We’ve had to see and admit what we see. Or we’d have been killed, we’d have been dead. bell hooks: Well, how do you feel about the critics who have ac- cused you of being a modern day mammy for the nation? Can you talk about that some? Maya Angelou: I can’t think of anything better [laughs]. I take responsibility for the time I take up and the space I occupy. That’s what I do. And if that is considered being a mammy, well, I can’t do anything about their ignorance. I can’t de-ignorize them. I’m always extolling the human spirit, and sometimes the human spirit doesn’t want to be extolled. It wants rather to drag down the extoller. You know, when you say to someone, “You’re won- derful,” and they say, “I’m not that wonderful, stop saying that,” well, they tell me more about themselves than about me. Because what I see is the wonder in the human spirit. JANuARY, 1998 Eve Ensler Does your work have a spiritual basis? I don’t see the kind of work I do and spirituality as separate. Anything that attempts to grapple with ambiguity or mystery or love is spiritual at its core. Are you familiar with the work of Pema Chödrön? I’ve read almost everything she has written. In fact, it’s funny you should bring that up. I was dreaming last night that I would go away for two weeks and be mentored by her and study under her. That’s how I got myself to sleep. How do you stay whole and human in the face of all the suffering your work addresses? I have certain practices. I’m a Buddhist; I’ve been practicing for phOTOBYJeRIheIDeN