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St. Louis Poetry Center celebrates Maya Angelou during National Poetry Month

Alex Heuer, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis has a long and rich literary tradition having produced such noted writers as Tennessee Williams, T.S. Eliot, Eugene Field and Maya Angelou. On April 26, in honor of National Poetry Month, the St. Louis Poetry Center will celebrate one of St. Louis’ own, Maya Angelou.

Among the readers featured at the Maya Angelou event are:

  • East St. Louis Poet Laureate Eugene Redmond, who is the co-founder of the Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club and professor emeritus of English at SIU-Edwardsville
  • St. Louis Poet Laureate Michael Castro, who is professor emeritus at Lindenwood University and is the co-founder of the literary organization and magazine River Styx
  • Harris Stowe State University English instructor and poet Jason Vasser, a recent graduate of the University of Missouri-St. Louis with an MFA in Creative Writing and curator of the Angelou celebration

Redmond was Maya Angelou's friend for 44 years and had many opportunities to share her work.
Redmond told "St. Louis on the Air" host Don Marsh on Thursday that what made Angelou so great was that she was able to take her many abilities such as dancing, storytelling and acting, and make them into poetry. He pointed to “the stories that she told and the people who were drawn to her because of those stories and specifically, the way she said things. [She had] the ability to see so much in people and put that in the language.”

Castro was particularly struck by Angelou because of her real presence. "I saw her for the first time probably 25 or 30 years ago and I’ve never forgotten it,” he said. 

“I consider myself and Eugene performance poets, but she was a performer in terms of her presence. The aura she gave out. A remarkable woman.  And a very wise woman. Her wisdom came through every time she opened her mouth," Castro said.

Vasser said he considers Angelou a legend and, when meeting her, immediately noticed her radiant presence. But he also found her very approachable.

Castro used the same word - approachable - to describe her work. “Her poems could relate to anyone. You didn’t have to be an English professor to relate to her work. In fact a lot of English professors don’t for various reasons. But I think part of her power is her directness in how she related her messages," he said.

As a member of a younger generation, Vasser believes that Angelou serves as a role model for him and his contemporaries and her work speaks to them. “She was very nurturing in what she would say to people,” he said.

"When she would do talks at different conferences or do poetry readings she was very positive. She would always affirm positive energy. She would always have a bright smile on her face. And that, you know, that translates any generational gap. A lot of us look to her as an example of what to do when you go do a reading. And I like to keep that attitude in my own self and my own writing to stay positive. I wonder, ‘what would Maya do, what would she write’ if there was something going on in the city, like Ferguson, for example. ‘What would Maya write about that? How would she handle a reading if we had to tackle that type of issue?’ And the answer is she would be very positive and nurturing even though it would be a difficult situation. She would make everything a lesson. She would make everything something to learn from."

Redmond, Castro and Vasser will be joined by Shirley LeFlore, Coretta Bozeman, Shane Seeley and Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club members Roscoe Crenshaw, Mali Newman, Darlene Roy and Jay P. Willis at the St. Louis Poetry Center celebration. The event also features music, dance, art and a reception.

Related event

St. Louis Poetry Center Presents “Celebrating Maya Angelou”

  • When: April 26, 2015; 4:00 – 7:00 p.m.
  • Where: Probstein Club House, 6141 Lagoon Drive in Forest Park
  • More information

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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Mary Edwards came to St. Louis Public Radio in 1974, just after finishing her Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She has served the station in a number of capacities over the years. From 1988-2014 she also taught an undergraduate class in radio production at Webster University. Mary was inducted into the St. Louis Media History Foundation Media Hall of Fame in April, 2017 and received the Gateway Media Literacy Partners' Charles Klotzer Media Literacy Award in 2012. Mary retired from St. Louis Public Radio in 2018, but still serves the station as a St. Louis Symphony Producer.
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