by Martha Waggoner
Associated Press Writer
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP)—Poet Maya Angelou celebrated a belated 82nd birthday May 20 with a few celebrity friends and a few choice words about political divisiveness in the United States.
Singers Naomi Judd and Martina McBride sang “Happy Birthday to You” to Angelou, who sat at a table in her newly refurbished backyard garden, while hip-hop artist and actor Common improvised a song to honor her.
“I have an attitude of gratitude. Nobody promised me this day,” Angelou said in an interview with The Associated Press, explaining how she keeps writing.
Despite her generally upbeat attitude, Angelou said she finds the state of national politics to be tragic.
“I mean, this is our country,” said Angelou, whose birthday was April 4. “This is a country of Republicans, of Democrats and of independents. And we are going to work together to make it better. Or we will not. And we will make it worse. And that’s dumb.”
She declined to say whether she blamed racism because President Obama is Black or whom she blames for the problems: “I can’t deal with it. Some of it is blithering ignorance. We look stupid in the world’s eyes…It polarizes us more, and I’m not that. I don’t do that.”
Most of the day focused on the friends and family who gathered to honor Angelou, who wore a pink pantsuit, a printed top and a mauve hat, along with fuzzy socks that helped her walk. A tent with yellow and white drapes covered the tables where about 100 guests ate while Common and McBride told the crowd what Angelou meant to them.
Common said he first discovered Angelou’s poetry in the fifth grade on the South Side of Chicago, when her poem “Still I Rise” touched his soul.
“It was always something that I could reference to at times when I was feeling down or doubting myself,” he told AP. “I just thought of that phrase, ‘Still I Rise.’ And it still resonates with me.”
While others waxed poetic about Angelou and her affect on them, Lee Daniels, the Oscar-nominated director of “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Lee Sapphire,” kept his words simple.
“She inspires me to tell the truth,” he said. “Her voice can’t be any more powerful. And she inspires me to do better work, to dig deeper in my soul and do better work.”
Angelou’s next effort, to be published later this year, is a cook book titled “Great Food All Day Long.”
The recipes are based on the idea of eating small amounts of food during the day, a way of eating that she said helped her lose 40 pounds over the last two years.
The party was sponsored by Lowe’s, the North Carolina-based home improvement store chain, and Harpo Radio, where Angelou has a radio show.