Richard A. Long and Maya Angelou

Although it is suggested by the recent release of the first full-length documentary based on the life of the late Dr. Maya Angelou, a Sundance project, “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise,” this piece will not contain information from that film or any other public archival source. This merely is an opportunity to share a few personal anecdotes arising from this writer’s brief contacts with Dr. Angelou, and her more intimate relationships with other family members.

The poet, professor and perpetual performer, Maya Angelou, sustained a mutually admired friendship with my late brother, Dr. Richard A. Long. Maya was fascinated with Richard’s winding, academic path: Temple, in Philadelphia; Howard, in D.C.; West Virginia State; Morgan State, in Baltimore; Poitier, in France; Clark-Atlanta and Emory, in Atlanta, Georgia – as well as the ancillaries stemming therefrom, involving all components of the . Richard, in turn, constantly was fascinated by Maya’s talented successes on the stage and screen, as well as the poet, polemicist and professor.

Maya Angelou Dancer

I was living as remotely as was continentally possible from the Eastern Seaboard world inhabited by Richard and Maya. I knew that they were close friends, and that Maya was an intimate of Oprah’s. That definitely was not my world. I was aware that Richard always was in attendance at Maya’s Thanksgiving gatherings at her Winston-Salem, North Carolina home, where she personally did the cooking. I also knew that they both were active participants at the annual Zora Neale Hurston literary festival in Florida. I recall that, at one time, they both were guests of Oprah’s on a Caribbean cruise. I knew that they both had been each other’s guests in their respective university classrooms. Richard always sent me copies of his newly published books, and some of Maya’s, as well.

Richard and I grew up a as wards of our elder sister Inez Richardson. When Richard moved to Atlanta, she and her husband James, along with Jim, Jr. and his wife Malqueen, lived just half a day away, in Colombia, South Carolina. They were regular visitors at Richard’s home in Atlanta’s Historic Inman Park. On one particular occasion, Maya Angelou was visiting at the same time, and there was a video made of her inspirational, kid-friendly communication with Jim, Jr.’s two tyros, James and Jason. Currently, James, a former Army captain, is a globe-trotting problem-solver for General Electric. Jason, now a banker, intends to stretch that profession into the practice of law. Maya would be pleased.

When Maya recited her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, I was enrolled in a unique Certificate in Translation Program, at San Diego State University. As such, it occurred to me to attempt a Spanish translation of Maya’s poem. Since my brother was forever in support of intellectual stimulus, I sent the poem to him. I knew that he would be appreciative of the effort, but that, as was his nature, there would be no response. (See the translation below.) However, several months later, I was bowled over when I received from Maya a copy of her poem in scroll form, accompanied by her handwritten note of appreciation for my translation. Aware of the value of such personal recognition, I immediately had both of those documents installed in a vacuum-sealed frame.

Thank you from Maya Angelou

I saw Maya twice in San Diego. The first time was at a full capacity, local college venue. She began singing backstage, without musical accompaniment. As she slowly appeared onstage, I noted that she was singing in Spanish a popular Mexican ranchera with a huapango rhythm that was a staple of my own repertoire with the guitar, when still I was vulnerable to such carefree abandon. Cu cu ru cu cu Paloma (the cooing of a dove). Here is a link to Mexican singer Lola Beltrán, the most popular interpreter of that song. It tells the tragic plight of a man in search of his lost love; his soul eventually turns into a cooing dove.

That device, obviously well established, made it immediately evident that your attention was being commanded by a pro who knew how to ensnare and hold an audience. After the one-woman, kaleidoscopic enthrallment began, there was no release until finally she herself granted it to her highly reluctant captives.

My next encounter with Maya in San Diego was direct and personal. It was early evening, at a La Jolla Village Shopping Center book store. Maya was sitting at a table, patiently signing books for people standing in a line that had snaked out the door and around the building. Although her beautiful, cursive pen was attentive to each individual, it was obvious that she was under some stress, which I attributed to exhaustion.

When I learned Maya would be there, I decided it would be a good opportunity, after our encounter with the poem, to take up with her the matter of a theatrical work of mine. I decided to wait near the table until she had finished signing books. There was a tall man, with the aspect of security standing next to her. I approached him with my intentions. He immediately connected my name to the Dr. Richard A. Long whom he knew in Atlanta. After the signing was over, he physically accompanied Maya to a back room, then came back for me. Her distress, I discovered, was due to a sacroiliac problem that practically brought her to tears. As this was our first meeting since the poem, Maya freely associated me with my brother’s title, and kept referring to me as, Dr. Long. She was receptive to being consulted about my stage piece, but explained that she avoided collecting material while on the road. She asked that I send the libretto to her home in North Carolina, which ultimate delivery thereof she did properly acknowledge.

Every summer in Atlanta, Georgia, there is a week-long celebration of the National Black Festival of Arts. On this particular occasion, several of those days were set aside as a 70th birthday tribute that city’s beloved Dr. Long. It was announced that Maya Angelou would be a major participant. The event was to take place at the same hotel and sandwiched in among the festival’s events. Relatives from the dispersed Long and Richardson (our sister Inez Richardson) families joined the celebration. It all culminated in a dinner, where most attendees wore a variety of very colorful modes of dress associated with the African Continent. In her presentation, through anecdotal nostalgia and humor, Maya traced her years of friendship with Richard. That was the last time I saw Maya Angelou.

When Richard’s tribute was repeated ten years later, Maya was not well enough to attend. Similarly, she could appear only in video at Richard’s memorial service held in the glorious crystal atrium of Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, with which Richard had been closely associated. About a year later, Maya herself was memorialized.

Maya Angelou and President Obama

***** ***** *****

AL VIBRAR DE LA MADRUGADA

(On the Pulse of Morning)

By Maya Angelou

(Translation: Curtis W. Long)

Una Roca, un Río, un Árbol, anfitriones de

especies ya retiradas

en épocas pasadas, marcaron el mastodonte, el

dinosaurio, los cuales dejaron, en su breve

estancia, señales secas en el suelo de nuestro

planeta.

Se esfuma en las tinieblas y el polvo de los

siglos cualquier gran zozobra que señalase el

inminente cataclismo.

Pero hoy, nos grita la Roca en voz clara y

vigorosa:

Venid, podéis subiros a mi espalda y hacer frente

a vuestro lejano destino, mas no busquéis refugio

en mi sombra.

Ya no facilitaré donde ocultaros aquí abajo.

Vosotros, un poco menos que los Ángeles creados,

por demasiado tiempo ya os habéis agazapado en la

abusadora oscuridad, os habéis postrado en la

ignorancia, boca abajo, expeliendo palabras

armadas para la matanza.

Hoy la Roca grita: podéis pararos encima de mí,

mas, no os ocultéis las caras.

A través de la muralla del mundo, un Río canta una

bella canción:

Venid, descansad aquí a mi lado.

Cada uno de vosotros es un país con frontera,

delicado y lleno de orgullo, soportando con

firmeza bajo asedio.

Vuestras ávidas luchas armadas han dejado sobre

mis costas collares de

desechos, corrientes de escombros sobre mi

pecho.

Pero hoy, si no volvéis a pensar en la guerra,

tendréis lugar en mi ribera.

Venid vestidos de paz, y os cantaré las canciones

que me regaló el Creador cuando yo y el Árbol y la

Roca

éramos uno.

Antes de que el escepticismo fuese una cicatriz

sangrienta, desfigurando la frente, y cuando

vosotros ya sabíais que todavía nada sabíais.

Cantaba el Río, y sigue cantando.

Existe una verdadera añoranza para responder al

Río cantante y a la sabia Roca. Así dice el

Aborigen, el Asiático, el Hispano, el Judío, el

Indio Suix, el Africano, el Católico, el Musulmán,

el Francés, el Griego, el Rabino, el Sacerdote, el

Irlandés, el Jeque, el Gay, el Hétero, el

Predicador, el Privilegiado, el Desalojado, el

Profesor.

Ellos escuchan, todos escuchan las palabras del

Árbol.

Hoy, hablan con la humanidad el primero y el

último

de cada Árbol.

Aquí en la orilla del Río, venid conmigo, aquí en

la orilla del Río sembréis os a mi lado.

Cada uno de vosotros, descendiente de algún

viajero pasajero, ya estáis pagados.

Vosotros, los que me disteis mi nombre de pila,

vosotros, el Pauní, el Apache y el Séneca,

vosotros, la Nación Cheroquí, que descansabais

conmigo, y luego, con los pies sangrando, os

fuisteis expulsos, dejándome en las manos de

otros, furiosamente en busca de provecho,

hambrientos por el oro.

Vosotros, el Turco, el Sueco, el Alemán, el

Escocés. Vosotros, el Ashanti, el Yoruba, el Kru,

comprados, vendidos, robados, llegando en la

penumbra de una pesadilla, rogándole al Cielo por

el milagro de un sueño.

Aquí, echad raíces a mi lado.

Soy el Árbol, sembrado a la orilla del Río que no

se moverá.

Yo, la Roca; yo, el Río; yo, el Árbol.

Yo soy de vosotros.

Vuestro pasaje ha sido ya pagado.

Levantad las caras, que tenéis la profunda

necesidad de este brillante día que amanece por

vosotros.

A pesar del dolor que produce, la historia no se

puede negar. Enfrentándola con coraje, en la misma

casa no será necesario volver a morar.

Alzad los ojos hacia el día que se asoma ante

vosotros.

Dejéis que el sueño vuelva a nacer.

Mujeres, niños, hombres, tomadlo entre las palmas

de vuestras manos.

Modeladlo en la forma de vuestra más íntima

necesidad.

Esculpidlo en la forma de vuestra más pública

imagen.

Levantad los corazones.

Cada nueva hora lleva nuevas oportunidades para

nuevos comienzos.

No os quedéis para siempre amarrados al pavor,

eternamente uncidos a lo brutal.

El horizonte se inclina hacia delante,

ofreciéndoos campo para colocar nuevos pasos de

cambio.

Ahora, al vibrar de este bello amanecer, tal vez

tengáis la fuerza de mirar hacia arriba y afuera,

en mí, la Roca, el Río, el Árbol, vuestra patria.

Nada menos para Midas que para el mendigo.

Nada menos para vosotros, ahora, que para el

mastodonte de aquél tiempo.

Hoy, al vibrar de este nuevo amanecer, tal vez

tengáis la gallardía de

dirigir la vista hacia arriba y hacia fuera, y

hacia los ojos de vuestra

hermana, hacia la cara de vuestro hermano, vuestra

patria, y luego, de decir sencillamente, muy

sencillamente, y con esperanza: buenos días.

Curtis W. Long

Curtis W. Long

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