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Maya Angelou: A Glorious Celebration

Terri Schlichenmeyer | 4/2/2009, 5 p.m.

Life, they say, is meant to be enjoyed. Nobody ever looked back on their life and wished they had worked an extra day. Carpe diem. Never stop looking for opportunity and never stop having fun.
Chances are, your heroes took all of the above to heart. Their exuberance for life and their zest for experience are two traits that made them who they are.

The same goes for poet Maya Angelou. In the new book "Maya Angelou: A Glorious Celebration" (c.2008, Doubleday, $30.00 / $34.00 Canada, 192 pages, c.2008, Brilliance Audio, read by Dion Graham, $26.95, 3 CDs / appx. 3 hours) by Marcia Ann Gillespie, Rosa Johnson Butler, and Richard A. Long (with foreword by Oprah Winfrey), you'll read about the rich life of a modern American hero.

Marguerite Johnson was born in St. Louis on April 4, 1928, the second child and only daughter of her parents. When she was still a baby, the family moved to California, but the Johnson marriage collapsed soon afterward. Three-year-old Marguerite and her older brother, Bailey, were sent to Stamps, Arkansas to live with their grandmother.

Annie Henderson, Marguerite's paternal grandmother gave the girl a good foundation and a stand-up-for-yourself spirit. Henderson was a formidable person in the community and a businesswoman, and her portrait is one of the three that Angelou looks at every day, even now.

As a typical teenager, Marguerite spread her wings and tested her maturity but her first encounter with intimacy resulted in a surprise. In 1945, at a time when unmarried pregnancy was scandalous, Marguerite became a mother. In 1951, she married Tosh Angelos, a man who would give her son a father and Marguerite, her last name.

Following her marriage, Marguerite decided to reach for a dream and become a dancer. At about this time, she changed her first name to "Maya" and tweaked her last name a bit. She wrote plays (often to critical scorn) and she was in great demand as a performer on and off-stage.

Following a divorce, Angelou married South African Vus Make and she gave up her career for her husband. The couple moved to Ghana for a time, but America called to Angelou. She returned stateside to work with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. and she began writing in earnest.

I was extremely fortunate to get this book both in paper form and on CD. The problem is, I can't decide which one to recommend to you. I loved them both.

On one hand, I enjoy listening to Dion Graham, the narrator on the audiobook. Graham's voice itself is like poetry, and his strong performance brings Dr. Angelou's experiences to life.

On the other hand, I can't imagine missing out on the photographs included in the book. Friends and followers of Dr. Angelou alike will find rarely-before-seen pictures in here, including some from Angelou's early years and of her family.

As Dr. Maya Angelou proceeds through her eightieth decade, either of the versions of this wonderful, rich book would be great ways to fete her. "Maya Angelou: A Glorious Celebration" is a book about a life, lived, and one you will definitely enjoy.