Dr. Maya Angelou (Photo by Ken Charnock/Getty Images)
NEW YORK (AP) — Writer, actor, dancer. Activist, teacher, composer. In the melange of Maya Angelou’s 85 years is also daughter, of two women who deserved one with a good memory. So Angelou writes in her latest literary memoir, “Mom & Me & Mom,” a sweet ode to “Lady,” her mother Vivian Baxter, and “Momma,” her paternal grandmother Annie Henderson, who took her in at age 3 in tiny, segregated Stamps, Ark., and returned her at age 13, when the time was right.
Baxter, rough-and-tumble poor from St. Louis, and Henderson, refined believer in southern etiquette, are both long gone but figure big in Angelou’s legendary life. The fierce and fun Vivian was Angelou’s abandoner and, later, her most loyal protector. She and Annie are familiar to admirers of the poet and spinner of autobiographical fiction. It’s Angelou’s eighth book to unravel her often painful and tumultuous life, including the 1969 National Book Award winner “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” chronicling her rape as a girl that left her mute for five years.
Angelou lost her beloved older brother Bailey in 2000, after his slide into drugs, and her mother in 1991, at age 79 or 85, depending on who’s doing the counting, joked Angelou in a recent telephone interview from her home in Winston-Salem, N.C., where she has lived part-time for more than 30 years while on the faculty of Wake Forest University. Her son, Guy, whom she had at age 17, remains with us, enduring years on crutches after numerous surgeries for spinal injuries he suffered in an auto accident.