NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 9

Still I Rise,” in which she included poetry from my third book, Songs from an Afro/Phone), film directorships (Georgia, Georgia and, decades later, Down in the Delta), awards (Ladies’ Home Journal: “Woman of the Year”), nominations (Pulitzers, Tonys), residencies (csus, Wichita State University, The Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy) and an honorary Ph.D. from Oakland’s Mills College (1975), the first of a string ending in a total of 74 before her death this year. University in Winston-Salem [nc], Redge Hanes, of “the” Hanes empire, hosted a reception. And the repast after the memorial itself was held at Graylyn Estate [think Reynolds as in r.j.]). Another brother-friend Alex Haley, in whose movie, Roots, Maya played Kunta Kinte’s grandmother, said in 1976 that she possessed “at least six women,” besting Nina (“Four Women”) by two. And like The Amen Corner, a play by James Baldwin, yet another brother-friend-mentor, had become a staple of black community theater in the Fifties and Sixties, so was Maya’s life, fecundity and creative brilliance becoming a staple of new Black/Ethnic and Women’s Studies classes and departments across the country. Into this mix was stirred our own individual or joint poetry readings and lecture tours, with time thrown in for us to get caught up on each other. As “forever”/new friends and artists, we took up the ageless practice of reading out loud, face-to-face or by phone, from our published poems as well as pieces-in-progress. Occasionally included for good “measures” were canonical and newly emerging bards like Shakespeare, Wheatley, James Weldon Johnson, Hughes, Dunbar, Georgia Douglass Johnson, Hayden, Brooks (Gwen), Clifton, Roethke, Mirikitani, Baraka and Brown (Sterling). Maya threaded these poets, along with poems from my books (like Sentry of the Four Golden Pillars, River of Bones and Flesh and Blood and, especially, In a Time of Rain & Desire) into her touring repertoire. We spoke, ate, laughed and danced to sounds of Satchmo, Duke, Sarah, Bird, Miles, Makeba, Nina (a dear friend of Maya’s) and Billie, whose prophetic issuance, “You’ll be famous — but not for singing,” rang stubbornly true for Maya, once an aspiring singer. And, yes, Maya’s own star continually “rose,” as she liked to put it, but, as she also said to me, this “rise” created consternation among some of her artistic peers whose stars simultaneously took tailspins or “stagnated.” Nevertheless “sister” continued to “cook” creatively, both literarily and culinarily. There were books (Gather Together in My Name, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas), plays (Oakland Ensemble Theatre’s production of “And In closing this brief recollection of my time with Maya in California’s 1970s, I’m thinking of three things that a sit-down visit with this raconteur required: 1) that you share stories and tall tales (aka “lies”); 2) that you take a drink, preferably alcohol but a softer one is acceptable – though it might win you a quizzical look; and 3) that you eat some “to die for” (Maya-made) cuisine. Almost as renowned for her kitchen cookin’ as for her virtuosic page and stage performances — “My brother, let me tell ya, I strode onto that stage carryin’ ALL of this ‘Black’ female equipment” — her multi-personae, cuisinartistic and poetic stance is what I tried to capture in “Maya’s Kitchen: Homage to SisterCook,” the opening lines of which are: Maya’s cookin’ again . . . & we, epicurious old salts & newly seasoned/newly wrought, voyage thru her kitchens as words, roasting like turkey on her tongue, roll over lips of her oven & feed our famished minds with loaves of poetry, (purple) onion rings of biography, tart salads of song & yeasty yields of drama.* * From Arkansippi Memwars: Poetry, Prose & Chants 1962-2012 (Chicago: Third World Press, 2013) BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE In 1974, following publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first of several of her autobiographical sequels (with its title’s nod to “Sympathy” by Dunbar, a favorite poet of Maya’s from childhood), and the release of the bo