When Maya Angelou Had Dinner at Our House


It was 1974.

It was a different world. It was when books were – well books.

She had come to speak at a book and author luncheon. Another speaker that day was my mother, Lois Wyse, who had just written her first novel: The Rosemary Touch.

As a teenage boy, I was fulfilling my obligation, and went to the book and author luncheon. My mother spoke (eloquently I might add), as did Maya Angelou. However, I had never heard of Maya Angelou.

At the end of the luncheon/book signing, which was made possible by the infamous Cleveland bookseller Richard Gildenmeister, my mother turned to me and said Maya Angelou was coming for dinner.

My mother was so excited; I guess I was as well. When we sat at dinner, Maya Angelou talked about the day, shared stories with my mother – then turned to me and asked, “What are you interested in?”

At the time, I was interested in sports, my friends, girls and just making money over the summer.

My summer job was working as an apprentice to a construction contractor. I did not know what I was interested in – I just knew what I was doing at the time.

My answer, “I am working in construction, remodeling houses.”

“Do you like it?” Maya asked.

I said I thought so. Then I remember what she said. “That is good. It is important to love what you do, and be aware of what you are doing.”

At the time, it had some meaning. But over the years, it has had more meaning. And, I have gotten more perspective to understand the meaning.

I know today that I am doing what I do because I love it. I can’t say that I am totally aware in every moment – after all, how many of us are?

But I have never forgotten dinner with Maya Angelou – this famous woman I had never heard of – until the day we had dinner.

And, in her comment to me – it was part of the beginning of my own awareness.

To quote a passage from Maya Angelou’s book, I Know Why The Cage Bird Sings, “Without willing it, I had gone from being ignorant of being ignorant to being aware of being aware. And, the worst part of my awareness was that I didn’t know what I was aware of.”

Maya, I still may not always know what I am aware of – but thank you for your life that has made us all more aware.

[Photo Credit: Eric Castro on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]

This post appeared on the LinkedIn Influencer page of Rob Wyse on May 28th, 2014 and can be viewed there by clicking here.
Rob Wyse (@robwyse) is Managing Director, New York, of Capital Content, where he advises thought leaders and writes about issues that drive economic opportunity, improve the environment, and lead to positive social change. His areas of focus include for-benefit enterprises, climate change, interfaith understanding, jobs and the economy, Internet access, and healthcare reform.