AUGUSTA – Extolling the college that hosted her Monday, Maya Angelou told tales of her childhood, motherhood and travels, and read an assortment of her poetry during an address at the Augusta Civic Center.

She urged those in the audience to be of use in life, to refrain from smoking, to use their local libraries and to laugh.

Nearly 5,000 people packed the civic center to hear the renowned poet, author, filmmaker and political activist in her first appearance in Maine in more than 15 years. Angelou interspersed her remarks with humor and song, and captivated the audience.

She said she couldn’t turn down the invitation from the University of Maine at Augusta, a college that serves largely adult students who are returning to school.

“You’re in this institution for some reason, so you can liberate the world, not just for its benefit,” Angelou said, “but so you can liberate it from your ignorance.”

Angelou said she got her educational start through her uncle Willie, who started her off by teaching her multiplication tables. She said she learned them out of fear of being thrown into the “pot belly stove.”

“I learned my multiplication tables exquisitely,” Angelou said.

She learned of her uncle’s reach — and of the reach and power of education — as she grew and met more people he had influenced. They included a mayor of Little Rock, Ark., a representative in the Arkansas legislature and a member of Arkansas’ congressional delegation.

“You have no idea, the power, the range of UMA,” she said. “You have no idea of the power of the graduates who come back and say, ‘I’m ready for it now. I’ll take it now.’“

Angelou’s address included witty asides and pieces of advice.

“I love the fact that you laugh,” she told the audience during a humorous moment. “I never trust people who don’t laugh.”

Angelou said she doesn’t take kindly to people who call themselves “serious.”

“I don’t know if you’re serious or not, but you’re boring as hell,” she said.

Angelou also told audience members to make better use of their libraries. “We have ill-treated libraries,” she said.

And she urged them to rely on their brains, rather than laptops and computers. “This is the first computer,” she said, pointing to her head. “It will do what you tell it to do. Nothing is lost from this machine.”

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 was also, at 14, San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor.

She’s now a professor of American studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Angelou’s appearance Monday was sponsored by the University of Maine at Augusta’s student government association. A handful of UMA students read Angelou poems to the crowd.

Rachel Talbot-Ross, president of the Portland chapter of the NAACP, also read an Angelou poem, “Still I Rise.”

The event came after months of preparation and anticipation on the UMA campus.

The student government association worked to promote Angelou’s address, selling nearly all of the 5,000 tickets that were available.


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