WE’RE KICKING OFF another fantastic series of interviews from this year’s Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. We were thrilled to be able to speak with Tavis Smiley, who had just published a new memoir, My Journey with Maya, recounting the beginning of his lifelong relationship with poet Maya Angelou. He was fortunate enough to find his way into Dr. Angelou’s company on a trip to Africa, where she delivered a speech at the W. E. B. Du Bois Centre in Accra, Ghana, a country where she’d previously lived. At the time, Smiley was just 21 and little more than a valet for Angelou, but the trip changed his life.
“I’m leaving the country for the first time as a young black man,” says Smiley, “and going to Africa for the first time, with Maya Angelou!” He mingled with legendary Pan-African leaders like Stokely Carmichael and Miriam Makeba, and numerous African kings and queens, and within a brief moment he connected to a world that he could then never leave behind. “As I sat there listening to Maya speak,” says Smiley, “she became a sort of cosmic connection to all the people that I wish I had known, like Martin, Malcolm, Mandela, Nina Simone, James Baldwin — the list goes on.”
LARB Editor-in-Chief Tom Lutz interviewed Smiley and asked him about the trip, about the vibrant sights and sounds that Smiley experienced on his life-changing journey, and about Angelou’s lasting influence on his life.