Wednesday, May 28, 2014

And now. . .in memory of Maya

When my friend, actress-activist Frances Williams, died in 1995, a service in her memory was held on January 22. Even Rosa Parks was there. And a videotape of Maya Angelou speaking --- shot in L.A. a few days before the memorial ---was shown; one with all the impact of anything "live" that came before or after. Visibly shaken and tearful, Angelou spoke from the heart (from my book Hot from Harlem):

"'Wisdom when it is matched with kindness---the two make for an unbeatable team. And all of us who love Frances are wiser and kinder because of her. She encouraged me once to paint my house. I had been living in West Africa and returned to the United States in the '60s. And I had been living the life of luxury in West Africa. Lots of things, material things. And I had to leave Ghana with $500 which of course didn't go very far. I came down to Los Angles and Frances offered me one side of the front house, the duplex, there's a very rich name for what it was. I think it was $50 a month.' But Angelou found herself missing the good life of Ghana and becoming depressed. When she went to Williams with her problems, Frances told her to buy some wall paint: She said, 'What you need to do is paint your house.' Angelou followed Williams' advice and began painting -first the living room, then its floor and ceiling, then the bathroom, the kitchen, the porch, the lamps. Everything the brush touched, Angelou painted. 'I almost painted myself,' she laughed, adding: 'Then, my house was shining and the depression was gone, gone, forever gone. I have noticed since then, since 1966, everywhere in the world I have lived if I find myself slipping into a storm of depression I don't paint the house, but I wash walls. I get a pan, a pail, some 409, some soap and water and I wash the walls. I wash all the negative thoughts away. I know that's what Frances was telling me.'"

If Maya Angelou could speak so eloquently off the top of her head, small wonder that she was such a great writer.

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