Thursday, May 29, 2014

Book Buzz: Authors Pay Tribute to Angelou at BookExpo

by Bob Minzesheimer)

A day after the death of Maya Angelou at age 86, the celebrated memoirist and poet was remembered by three diverse authors at BookExpo America, the annual publishing convention.

Actress Anjelica Huston, talk show host Tavis Smiley and novelist Lisa Scottoline all paid tribute to Angelou's words and legacy.

Huston, whose second memoir, Watch Me, will be released Nov. 11, began her remarks by reading from Angelou's poem A Brave and Startling Truth, written to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in 1995.

"If we are bold," Huston added, "only love sets us free."

Speaking about her own life, Huston described the burdens early in her acting career of being known mostly as the daughter of director John Huston and the girlfriend of actor Jack Nicholson.

Only after she nearly died in a car crash, when she was 28, she said, did she realize that "I'd been marginally wasting my life."

She said she decided to write her memoirs — A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London and New York, was released last year — after the 2008 death of her husband of 17 years, sculptor Robert Graham. His death, she said, left her "alone and in a state of shock." She added, "I knew enough about sorrow not to hold on to things too tightly," but "to open the doors, let the air in."

Smiley described how, as an African-American boy in a family of 10 kids sharing a three-bedroom trailer in the cornfields of Indiana, he was inspired by Angelou's poem Still I Rise.

Smiley, whose book Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year will be released Sept. 9, is one of only two African Americans among the featured speakers at the four-day convention. He called on publishers and editors to publish most diverse voices.

"It's not enough for us just to celebrate the life and legacy of Maya Angelou," Smiley said. "We need to recognize that every one of us has a voice, a unique thumbprint on our throats, and each of us has a story. I want to encourage all of us in the book publishing world to work a little bit harder to get the stories of people of color told."

Scottoline, whose next thriller, Betrayed, will be released Nov. 25, discussed how novelists use their imaginations to "tell a truth" that goes beyond facts and helps readers discover things about themselves.

She said that's true "for writers either alive or dead," then added, "Maya Angelou will never really die."

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