AUGUSTA — Rebecca Cothen has spent an entire semester reading the poetry, autobiographical writings, essays and cookbooks of Maya Angelou.

“I already kind of feel like I know her,” she said.

Cothen will be in the audience Monday when the acclaimed poet, author, filmmaker and dignitary takes the stage at the Augusta Civic Center for her first appearance in Maine in more than 15 years.

“I’m going to be kind of in awe,” said Cothen, an English major at the University of Maine at Augusta. “She’s like my black grandmother. She really speaks to all women.”

The UMA student government association has been busily preparing for Angelou’s appearance throughout the academic year. And when nearly 5,000 people show up at the civic center Monday to see the result of their labor, a number of devoted Angelou fans will be among them.

Catelin Lindsay counts herself as one of those fans.

“She came from very little and rose to the top,” said Lindsay, a member of the committee that organized Angelou’s appearance. “I wanted a woman who the people who came to see her in Augusta could find a piece of themselves in.”

Angelou, 82, is perhaps best known for “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” the first part of her six-volume autobiography, which she published in 1970.

She wrote that work shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for whom she had worked as a regional coordinator with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Two years after she published that seminal work, Angelou became the first African-American woman to write a screenplay and have it filmed. That 1972 production was “Georgia, Georgia.”

Angelou is now a professor of American studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Even if their life experiences have been different, Cothen said she sees a piece of herself in Angelou’s poetry and other writings. Both women, for example, have the experience of being single mothers, said Cothen, 28.

“I feel like we have a lot in common,” she said. “Her poetry really strikes home for me.”

What Cothen said she admires is Angelou’s tendency to publicly reflect on sometimes embarrassing life experiences as learning opportunities. “She’s willing to stand up and tell you the humiliating things that have happened in her life because they’re lessons,” Cothen said.

Lindsay, 29, said two Angelou poems in particular – “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise” – strike a chord with her.

“If you read her poems, they’re basically a woman talking about potential, just limitless potential,” said Lindsay, of Augusta. “I could relate to that. I want to see that in my city.”

When Angelou starts speaking, Lindsay said, she expects to rejoice in the work she and fellow planning committee members did to bring the author to Maine’s capital. “I think I will be in awe and thoroughly impressed,” she said. “It’ll be cool to say, ‘I’ve seen Maya Angelou,’ and actually have it mean something,” Cothen said.


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