Poetry News

Visit Maya Angelou's archive in Harlem, in your slippers

By Harriet Staff

Maya Angelou and Howard Dodson, executive director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, joined NPR's Michel Martin to discuss the Center's acquisition of Angelou's personal correspondence, documents, and drafts.

The papers will be housed at the Schomburg branch of the New York Public Library in Harlem, which also counts the works of John Henrik Clarke, Lorraine Hansberry, and Richard Wright among its collections. Angelou states that her papers couldn't have gone anywhere but the Schomburg and credits Dodson, who will retire next year, with making these key documents of black culture accessible to researchers and the public.

Howard Dodson came into the Schomburg and opened it up to the community - the community of Harlem, and the community of human beings. So people could come into the Schomburg in jeans, our go-aheads, our slippers. You can go into the Schomburg in dreads or with your hair marcelled - or cut off, for that matter. ... And under Howard Dodson's aegis, the doors were opened. And that's what all education should - how it should be offered: completely open.

Speaking of openness, Angelou isn't shy about drafts of "On the Pulse of Morning," written for former President Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration, and other works-in-progress and revisions entering into public view:

I have no modesty. Modesty is a learned affectation. It's just, it's like decal stuck up on a person. So I have no modesty. I have - and, I pray, I continue to have - and have in abundance, humility. So I'm not concerned about how somebody looks at a piece that I wrote two pages, and ended up with one sentence.

In fact, she and Dodson place a tremendous value on the ability of other artists to examine her process, and to hopefully gain some perspective on discipline to better develop their own writing, "freeing them up to do two and three and four drafts so that they get it right rather than just getting something down that they can throw out to the public."

Originally Published: November 19th, 2010