No one knows what Maya Angelou is going to say when she speaks at Hill Auditorium this afternoon.

She could speak about her career as a civil rights activist.

She could speak about her poetry. Or her novels.

Her lecture is simply titled “An Afternoon With Maya Angelou.” Even the event’s organizers say they have no idea what she’ll talk about.

The best-selling author, poet, playwright, director, producer, actress, lecturer and civil-rights activist could speak about almost anything – with authority.

Tickets for the free event, sponsored by the Ross School of Business, are no longer available.

The Business School is bringing Angelou to campus as part of its alumni reunion weekend. (She is not an alum.)

At first, Angelou seems like an unlikely speaker for the business school. But Business School Spokesman Paul Gediman, the business school spokesman, said Angelou fits well with the school’s mission.

“Business doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists in the real, complex world full of artists, writers, poets, doctors, activists, and others,” Gediman said.

Business school junior Matthew Wyble said he plans to attend the event.

“It’s cool because it’s not something the business school normally brings in,” he said. “This event is useful for making us well-rounded.”

Gediman said Angelou’s lecture fits well with the school’s overall speaker program, which has featured internationally recognized speakers like former AOL Chairman Steve Case, activist Zainab Salbi, Democratic strategist Julianna Malveaux and former General Electric Chairman Jack Welch.

Angelou spoke at Eastern Michigan University in 2004, but this is the first time she will be lecturing at the University of Michigan.

“It is one of the kinds of glorious things that happen at this University that would be less likely to happen at a smaller place,” English Prof. John Whittier-Ferguson said.

Born Marguerite Annie Johnson April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Mo., Angelou and her brother Bailey were raised by their grandmother in Stamps, Ark. following their parent’s divorce. During this time, Angelou experienced racial discrimination, which she recounts in her 1970 best-selling autobiographical work “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Angelou was molested by her mother’s boyfriend at age 7. When her uncle killed the man that raped Angelou, she was haunted by the pervasive guilt that her words resulted in the man’s death. She didn’t speak for five years, except to her brother.

While attending Mission High School in San Francisco, Calif., Angelou dropped out and became San Francisco’s first African-American cable car conductor. She later returned to high school and graduated prior to giving birth to a son, Guy. By her 20s, Maya had been a cook, waitress, dancer and single mother. She was married for five years in her 20s, but she eventually got divorced. While a nightclub singer, Marguerite took on the professional name Maya Angelou, fusing her childhood nickname “Maya” with her ex-husband’s last name.

In the 1950s, Angelou settled in New York, joined the Harlem Writer’s Guild, acted in Jean Genet’s Off-Broadway production, “The Blacks,” and wrote and performed in a “Cabaret for Freedom.” In the early 1960s, Angelou served as editor for “The Arab Observer” in Cairo and instructed at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama. Angelou returned to the United States in 1964 to aid Malcolm X with his Organization of African American Unity. She never got the chance. He was assassinated shortly after her arrival.

Maya has taught modern dance in Israel and Italy, appeared in off-Broadway productions, wrote the Pulitzer Prize-nominated screenplay for the film “Georgia, Georgia” (1972) and published more than 30 books including 12 best-sellers.

Angelou served on various committees for Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 presidential inauguration.

Angelou’s work advocates self-acceptance and serves as a medium for promulgating diversity in culture, race and identity.

Prof. Keith Taylor, the director of the LSA Creative Writing Program, said that Angelou’s public role as a supporter of the arts allows for art’s connection to larger audiences.

“She has a moving story to tell that is important for many reasons – an African-American experience, the life of a woman, an artist, and a public intellectual,” Taylor said. “All of those things are not only of interest, but necessary to hear.”

Afternoon with Maya Angelou”

Where: Hill Auditorium

When: Today at 1:30 p.m.

Sponsor: Stephen M. Ross School of Business

Cost: Admission by
ticket only, free of charge

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