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Angelou wows local crowd

The Mahaffey Theater audience roars with delight.

Published May 25, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Outside the Mahaffey Theater, the wind boomed in off the bay, threatening the elegant hairdos with a natural disaster.

Inside, the booming came from the loudspeaker countdown: Six minutes until curtain!

Then it was time for Maya Angelou.

Angelou, at 79, is a bestselling memoirist, an honored poet, a civil rights activist, a playwright, actor, director, dancer, songwriter, teacher and radio host. On Thursday night, she was also the funniest comedian to take the stage in St. Petersburg. "I like to laugh, " she confided, calling serious people "boring as hell."

Over the course of 90 minutes, the most famous former resident of Stamps, Ark., cracked jokes about Don Imus, her inability to remember the names of rappers ("Piffy?") and the way her uncle taught her multiplication in one night - dangling her in front of a blazing stove.

The crowd, an eclectic mix of ages, races and income levels, welcomed her with a standing ovation. University of South Florida history major Djuan Bracey, 19, was looking for a cultural experience. Minnie Carter and Sarah Page, friends from St. Petersburg, hoped for some pearls of inspiration.

Angelou started off with a song about how "when it looked like the sun wouldn't shine any more, God put a rainbow in the skies."

She compared rainbows on a stormy day to the people who helped her become something other than "one more poor, barefoot, black, abused girl."

Mostly, though, she poked fun at herself. She told how she was so offended at a racial remark from a studio executive that she quit a movie job and stormed out, only to discover she had left her purse and keys behind.

Repeating her famous story, she told about how, as a child, she was raped by her mother's boyfriend. When he was then kicked to death by persons unknown, she fell mute for six years, convinced she had killed him by speaking his name.

She told how her grandmother would encourage her to speak, telling her "when you and the good Lord get ready, you going to be a teacher."

"I used to sit there and think, 'This poor, ignorant woman!'" said Angelou, now a professor at Wake Forest University. The crowd roared.

[Last modified May 25, 2007, 01:18:57]

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