Maya Angelou talks race and politics

Just six days before she is set to touch down in Baton Rouge to host “A Night with Maya Angelou,” the iconic poet and civil rights activist held a handful of media representatives in rapt attention Wednesday at LSU.

Speaking via conference call from her home in North Carolina, the self-described woman from “a little village in Arkansas” touched on a number of topics including courage as a virtue, how racism is waning in America and how politicians could stand to show more emotion in public.

In a career spent, among other things, fighting against apartheid and organizing on behalf of Martin Luther King Jr., Angelou, 84, has never shied away from politics.

On Wednesday she touched on President Barack Obama’s Tuesday night State of the Union Address calling it “wonderful,” particularly portions of the speech that dealt with the safety of the nation’s children and gun control.

“I particularly liked that he’s courageous enough to be emotional. A number of leaders have the belief that they’re supposed to be above that,” she said. “So President Obama pleased me last night when he talked about all our children, and how even if you’re not a parent, you’re some parent’s child.”

In describing the president as courageous, Angelou gave a glimpse into what she will talk about to LSU students next week.

Her 1969 autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” is widely regarded as a courageous work at a time when black women didn’t readily offer to the public introspective takes on developing an inferiority complex as a result of racial victimization.

“I would encourage young men and women to develop courage. It’s the most important of all the virtues because without it, you can’t practice the other virtues. You can be anything erratically every now and then, kind, fair, generous, merciful, all of those things. But to continue to be that all of the time, day in and day out, you have to have courage,” she said.

In Angelou’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated 1971 volume, “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie,” she touches on the subject of race in America.

On Wednesday, she said that while racism still exists in America, and continues to be “excruciating” and “extremely ugly,” she feels as if the country has turned a corner.

“Our country is better now than it may seem to be,” Angelou said. “You can look around and see black people in positions of leadership, and they’ve been voted in by large white majorities ... men and women who head some of the large corporations and men and women who head some of the largely white universities.”

“A Night With Maya Angelou” will be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the LSU Student Union Theater. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. Tickets are required, but are free. They will be distributed based on a priority system, with students from LSU’s main campus given the highest priority, since the event is paid for with student fees.

Guests are encouraged to arrive early as seating is based on a first-come, first-served basis. Beginning at 7:10 p.m., all unclaimed seats will be given to guests waiting in the stand-by line.

The night will also feature a National Pan-Hellenic Council Step Show and performances by the LSU Gospel choir and LSU student Eric Couto, who won the “Mic with Maya” poetry slam contest sponsored by the LSU Student Activities Board.