Food, friends and freedom: Nikki Giovanni remembers Maya Angelou

Story highlights

  • Poet Nikki Giovanni knew Maya Angelou over the years and shares her memories
  • Angelou was a great cook and good friend, author says
  • Giovanni notes Angelou's special ability to speak to everyone in the same voice

I must have met Doc, as we called Maya Angelou, way before I remember.

We often attended readings, but the first time she absolutely caught my attention was at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.

It wasn't all that cold, but Maya and others had fur coats on. My mother, who was a big fan of the Seven Sisters colleges, had come with me. We both had on cloth coats.

Doc, as we all know, was 6 feet or taller. Mommy was 4-foot-11, and I am 5-foot-2. Not only were we shorter, we felt smaller.

"Doc" Maya Angelou (seated) with Joanne Gabbin (left) and Nikki Giovanni in 2012.

I looked at that group and made a silent vow to never allow my mother to be with this group again without a fur coat. We purchased one soon after.

When Mommy died, I shared that story with Doc.

Maya laughed. "We had no idea," she said. And laughed again. Mommy owes Doc.

The words Maya Angelou left behind
The words Maya Angelou left behind

    JUST WATCHED

    The words Maya Angelou left behind

MUST WATCH

The words Maya Angelou left behind 03:12
1993:  Angelou at Clinton's inauguration
1993:  Angelou at Clinton's inauguration

    JUST WATCHED

    1993: Angelou at Clinton's inauguration

MUST WATCH

1993: Angelou at Clinton's inauguration 05:42
Legendary author Maya Angelou dies
Legendary author Maya Angelou dies

    JUST WATCHED

    Legendary author Maya Angelou dies

MUST WATCH

Legendary author Maya Angelou dies 03:50
2013: Maya Angelou discusses MLK's dream
2013: Maya Angelou discusses MLK's dream

    JUST WATCHED

    2013: Maya Angelou discusses MLK's dream

MUST WATCH

2013: Maya Angelou discusses MLK's dream 04:20

Opinion: Maya Angelou: The definition of a phenomenal woman

When Doc moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, she was not far from me in Virginia, so I got to see a lot of her. If I had any inkling she was frying chicken, I'd go down and spend the night. When Jay-Z sent her a case of wonderfully expensive champagne, those days I had to spend the night!

Everyone came to Doc's place, which was great fun. You'd wake up in the morning not knowing who would be down to breakfast. The superstars; the wonderfully funny; old friends from another country; a congressman. And Doc treated them all the same.

Maya Angelou remembered by those she inspired

Her ability to speak to everyone in the same voice was what made her the force she was.

Our only disagreements were about food.

She was a great cook, and I think of myself as a good one. We were arguing about rack of lamb, one of my specialties. My recipe comes from the late, great country cook Edna Lewis. I went home after my visit and decided I should not just talk the talk but also walk the walk.

I called my good friend Joanne Gabbin from Furious Flower Poetry Center to have her come with me to Doc's to cook. Jo is a great cook, too. We got on Doc's calendar, packed all our ingredients and spices and boogied on down.

Doc sat at the head of the table, where she could see everything going on in the kitchen. She inspected the lamb, checked the veggies, tasted everything and praised Joanne.

I think she loved me a little bit because she, like my only living aunt, always felt free to make minor corrections. "I think the lamb is a bit overdone," she offered.

"Well Edna Lewis is in heaven, and I checked with her before I put this on the table," I responded.

We both laughed. I know if the lamb was not done properly, she would have eaten it and not said a word.

I wanted to fry chicken for her, too, but time just ran out.

Anderson and Dr. Maya Angelou Part 1
Anderson and Dr. Maya Angelou Part 1

    JUST WATCHED

    Anderson and Dr. Maya Angelou Part 1

MUST WATCH

Anderson and Dr. Maya Angelou Part 1 08:00
Anderson and Dr. Maya Angelou Part 2
Anderson and Dr. Maya Angelou Part 2

    JUST WATCHED

    Anderson and Dr. Maya Angelou Part 2

MUST WATCH

Anderson and Dr. Maya Angelou Part 2 05:43

Our mutual friend, the late author Alex Haley, always said, "Find the good and praise it." Maya took it to heart. She would always seek the good in any situation, or she avoided the question.

Opinion: How Maya Angelou gave me life

In all my years of knowing her, I only heard her once speak ill of someone and that was well deserved.

Like everyone, I have read and reread "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings." And like that caged bird, Maya sought an inner freedom.

We only have to look at her life to see that she took every ounce of joy life had to offer.

I will remember her as a courageous woman who always wanted to love, and wish her a rightful place in literature.

Some of Angelou's most powerful speeches

      Find yourself at CNN Living

    • Eatocracy: Try this unique syrup

      Travis and Joyce Miller started producing hickory syrup as an experiment. Demand for the unique flavor has turned into a full-time business.
    • Relate: Summer lovin'

      These happy couples kept the campfire flames burning, and turned summer flings into lifetime commitments.
    • MIAMI, FL - JULY 22:  A model walks the runway at the Beach Riot show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim 2014 at Cabana Grande at the Raleigh on July 22, 2013 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by  for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim 2014)

      Style: The appeal of the one-piece

      Bikinis might dominate the beaches, but style editors and trend forecasters say the one-piece is the "fashion-forward" choice this season.