How do you celebrate the intentionally phenomenal life and accomplishments of Dr. Maya Angelou, one of the world’s most celebrated humanitarians, poets and authors of our time? Well, with a party of course. Tomorrow, rapper and actor Common, alongside his community based organization, Common Ground Foundation, will host a gala in the Windy City to honor Dr. Maya Angelou and others for their drive, leadership and excellence.
ESSENCE.com sat down with the always graceful matriarch to discuss Common, hip hop and why dinnertime is about more than just food.
ESSENCE.com: What does being honored by your friend Common mean to you?
DR. MAYA ANGELOU: Any time a friend shakes your hand, pats you on the back, gives you a big hug or a huge smile, it increases your life. The value of your life is increased. There’s glee. I admire Common a great deal. He’s a very intelligent man and a very talented person. And he likes me and finds me to be intelligent and talented too…that is awfully nice.
ESSENCE.com: You and Common both share a love for words. Do you view hip hop artists as poets?
DR. ANGELOU: Yes, absolutely. In the nineteenth century Paul Lawrence Dunbar wrote so many poems in rhythm and rhyme and so did Edgar Allen Poe with his poems. So it’s not really new. It’s new in that it’s prominent, but it’s been going on for centuries.
ESSENCE.com: We were so inspired by your Master Class on Oprah’s OWN. Oprah inspires us, you inspire Oprah. How has she inspired you?
DR. ANGELOU: Oh my goodness. I’m pleased with her courage and intelligence. Whenever I hear a criticism against her, I think about her and think, ‘Brother, if you only knew what I know. If only you didn’t have the blinders on and could decide to look at the character of the woman.’ She’s intelligent. She’s courageous. She’s kind. Now I don’t know if it gets better than that.
ESSENCE.com: Do you have any special projects you’re working on now?
DR. ANGELOU: I’m always working. It’s my fortune, my blessing and chore. I obviously love to work, because I do so much of it. My last book, “Great Food,” is my second cook book. It’s my 31st book published so that means I work all the time. And I’m not complaining, just reporting.
ESSENCE.com: Do you write every day?
DR. ANGELOU: I write something. I don’t mean that I write something creative like a short story or a poem. But I do try to write a little something. A letter perhaps. These words are the tools of my business and my life. The tools of my calling.
The Common Ground Foundation’s gala honoring Dr. Angelou, Sherri Shepherd, KeKe Palmer, business leader Dee Robinson Reid takes place on April 16, 2011.