On April 19, in honor of what would have been Maya Angelou’s 90th birthday, the Celebrate! Maya Project will host a luncheon to honor the literary icon at the Clinton Presidential Center’s Great Hall. Angelou, who died in 2014 at the age of 86, spent part of her childhood in the small South Arkansas town of Stamps. Her experience there formed the basis for her classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
From the group’s press release:
An Arkansas-based nonprofit, the Celebrate! Maya Project provides educational programming rooted in the spirit of Angelou and awards academic scholarships for student writers and poets.
The Celebrating Maya@90 luncheon will feature Rita Coburn Whack, co-director and co-producer of the award-winning documentary Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise as the keynote speaker. The celebration will also feature performances by Arkansas singer Genine LaTrice Perez.
On display during the celebration will be Maya’s Quilt of Life — a quilt by Faith Ringgold featuring handwritten excerpts from Angelou’s written works: Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie (1971), Gather Together In My Name (1974), The Heart of a Woman (1981) and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings (1970). The quilt, which was commissioned by Oprah Winfrey and is currently on loan from Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, was a gift from Winfrey to the late poet.
“We are thrilled to display Maya’s Quilt of Life during April, the month of Maya Angelou’s 90th birthday,” said Stephanie S. Streett, executive director of the Clinton Foundation. “Dr. Angelou and President Clinton had a long-standing friendship based on common experience, shared values and mutual respect. We hope that guests of all ages enjoy this opportunity to celebrate her life and legacy.”
In recognition of the 25th anniversary of Angelou’s iconic poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” which she recited at the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, local artists and community leaders will perform the poem during the luncheon.
“The Celebrate! Maya Project’s primary focus is taking Maya’s life messages into Arkansas schools and the communities to help youth see that their journey is not so different from Maya Angelou’s childhood journey, but to also help youth find their own voices,” said Janis F. Kearney, founder and president of the Celebrate! Maya Project. “As she chronicled in her award-winning book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her childhood was rife with racial, economic and social challenges. Yet, in spite of it all, she rose beyond her surroundings. We are working to ensure that Arkansas’ children embrace the truth that they, too, can rise.”