Maya Angelou, who died last week at the age of 86, spoke with Bill on several occasions over the course of her life, but his first interview with her was filmed in 1973 in her cottage in Berkeley, California. At the time, Angelou, 45, was already an accomplished singer, dancer, poet, author, actress, editor, songwriter and playwright. As Bill noted in his introduction, this “gifted and very human woman” had “touched more bases than Henry Aaron. Yet, all these categories failed to do justice to the scope of her life.”
Her bestselling autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, had been released just four years before. In it, she explored issues such as identity, rape, racism, and literacy. In this clip, Bill opens their conversation by asking Angelou about the progress of the civil rights movement and the burgeoning women’s liberation movement, and what both meant to black women like her who were trying to get free of clichés and stereotypes.
“Fighting for one’s freedom, struggling towards being free, is like struggling to be a poet or a good Christian or a good Jew or a good Muslim or good Zen Buddhist,” she tells Bill. “You work all day long and achieve some kind of level of success by nightfall, go to sleep and wake up the next morning with the job still to be done. So you start all over again.
“I don’t know if society doesn’t know who I am. And I mean I a woman, I a black, I human.
“I don’t know if I quite believe that. I think it knows and doesn’t itself want to cope. And that is the society’s problem, not mine.”