NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 8

Maya Angelou & the Invention of a FriendShip, 1970’s-Style A Hook Up Haiku Nineteen Seventy: “Brother be, I’ll sister thee,” Maya sang to me. She was 41. I was 32. It was the fall of 1970. Sacramento (ca) City College. (We’d exchanged glances and nods at “cause”-inflected rallies, arts events and sundry moments in the late Sixties. But whether in New York or Los Angeles, no other “moment” would be like this one.) 6 Her exact words were: “Eugene, be my brother forever!” A tall order from a tall woman, it came during our first full contact. Right after Maya Angelou had slung her songified language at — and plie’d to — an sro throng for more than an hour. Initially I was smacked aback by this uncaged bird, this leggy goddess, this poet, actress, dancer, and former cast member of Porgy and Bess and — with James Earl Jones, Roscoe Lee Browne, Cicely Tyson, et al — the New York production of Genet’s The Blacks. But I quickly readied for her request-into-perpetuity, thinking, “brother?” “forever?” … Shiddddd … nuttin but sumpn to do. After all, hadn’t I just done time — 60’s-style — in East St. Louis (aka “East Boogie”), Illinois? Followed by a EUGENE B. REDMOND So our Ship of Friends set sail in the Soular System in a state named after a fictional Black Amazon and warrior queen, Califia. (According to Spanish writer Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo who first introduced her in his popular novel Las sergas de Esplandián [circa 1500], Califia and her army of amazons inhabited a namesake island off the southwest coast of California.) During the Seventies, Maya and I frequently and vigorously traversed the near-90miles of Northern California, from Sacramento, where I lived, to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she resided. p Maya Angelou (The Loss is Huge, Huger than the Leap of Fate she took to co-invent her place on the planet. But that’s a whole nother chapter for a whole nother tome. It suffices to say, simply & Hugely: Maya’s gone.) By year’s stop-off at Oberlin College (Ohio) as writer-in-residence, where I’d met poets Russell Atkins, Norman Jordan and James Kilgore in nearby Cleveland? And Calvin Hernton — who would replace me at Oberlin, and later date Angelou in the 1980s? Hadn’t I, among other Black Arts Movement (bam) self-assignments, spent the last years of the ‘60s frequently delivering elegiac/eulogistic poems and polemics for fallen warriors, many felled under questionable circumstances? (And when there was even a fraction of an iota of a suspicion about causes of the “fall” of one of our comrades — e.g., Henry Dumas (1934-1968) — hadn’t we chalked it up to “healthy paranoia”?) Hadn’t I — as a faculty member at Southern Illinois University’s Experiment in Higher Education in East St. Louis — worked with colleagues, artists and students like Dumas, Katherine Dunham, Edward Crosby, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Jackson, Joyce Ladner and Sherman Fowler to help conceptualize and implement the new Black/African American Studies Movement? (And wouldn’t this same Sacramento City College — the one where Maya had just delivered her mixed-genre, hig