Angelou: "I Shall Not Be Moved"

Cue Card preview image

General Information

NBC Today Show
Bryant Gumbel
Event Date:
Air/Publish Date:
Resource Type:
Video News Report
NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
Copyright Date:
Clip Length:


In this 1990 interview, Maya Angelou tells of being a "voluntary mute" as a child, until a neighbor persuaded her to read poetry aloud. Angelou reads one of her poems, "Seven Women's Blessed Assurance."



"Angelou: "I Shall Not Be Moved"." Bryant Gumbel, correspondent. NBC Today Show. NBCUniversal Media. 29 May 1990. NBC Learn. Web. 11 January 2020.


Gumbel, B. (Reporter). (1990, May 29). Angelou: "I Shall Not Be Moved". [Television series episode]. NBC Today Show. Retrieved from


"Angelou: "I Shall Not Be Moved"" NBC Today Show, New York, NY: NBC Universal, 05/29/1990. Accessed Sat Jan 11 2020 from NBC Learn:


Maya Angelou: "I Shall Not Be Moved"


As a young girl, Maya Angelou was what doctors call a voluntary mute, unable and unwilling to talk. It was poetry read aloud by a neighbor which finally brought her voice back. Maya Angelou has, of course, now grown up to write her own books, screenplays, and poetry. Her latest effort is called "I Shall Not be Moved."

Maya Angelou, it's always good to see you. Good morning.

MAYA ANGELOU: Thank you. Good morning.

GUMBEL: Mrs. Flowers was the lady who read poetry to you, right?

ANGELOU: That's right.

GUMBEL: What do you remember about those years?

ANGELOU: Well, I loved poetry. I loved it. It was my--my familiar, if you will, my intimate. And after being mute for about five years, Mrs. Flowers did something which all blacks hate. I mean, no matter—right across the board, she pointed her finger at me. I mean, black people, whether Supreme Court judges or street sweepers, say, `Don't put your finger in my face,' right? But she--she pointed her finger at me and said, `You don't love poetry. You can't. You will never love it until you feel it come across your tongue, through your teeth, over your lips. You will never love poetry,' and shook her--and she was too elegant to do that.

She was really shocking me. I ran away. She harassed me. I ran to the store, she went there. And finally, after months, I went under the house. It was in the South, in Arkansas. And I got a book of poetry, and I tried to see if I could speak, and I haven't stopped since.

GUMBEL: Do you still feel that way, that poetry is best read aloud?

ANGELOU: Oh, it is. Poetry is music written for the human voice. It must be read aloud. I know that there are those purists and people who say they love the concrete poetry, the actual look of poetry. Well, yeah, I mean--I like paintings. I mean, I would do anything to see a John Biggers, or--or Romai Beardon, a Phoebe or something—but poetry, I want it spoken. I want it almost sung. You know, young men and women are fooled away from poetry, Bryant, because in some cases, peop--teachers can make even Edgar Allan Poe or Paul Lawrence Dunbar boring and they say, `If you don't get your lesson, we're going to make you learn a poem.'

GUMBEL: It's all in the life you inject into it?

ANGELOU: Exactly.

GUMBEL: Will you read for us?


GUMBEL: I know you have one selected. Can I follow along if you'll give me the page number?

ANGELOU: Yes, please. It's page 42.


ANGELOU: This is a light poem. It's called "Seven Women's Blessed


"One woman said, `One thing about me, I'm little and low. Find me a man wherever I go.' Second woman says, `They call me string bean because I'm so tall. Men see me, they're ready to fall.' Third woman says, `I'm young as morning, fresh as dew. Everybody loves me; so do you.' Fourth woman says, `I'm fat as butter, sweet as cake. Men start to tremble every time I shake.' Fifth woman says, `I'm little and lean, sweet to the bone. They like to pick me up and just carry me home.' Sixth woman says, `When I past 40, I stopped pretense, because men like women who've got some sense.' But the seventh is my favorite. She says, `Fifty-five is perfect, so is 59, 'cause every man needs to rest sometime.'

GUMBEL: That's a lot lighter than most of the poems in here are.

ANGELOU: That's true.

GUMBEL: What's the common theme here? Is there a common theme?

ANGELOU: Yes, there is a theme. The theme is "I Shall Not Be Moved." I believe that every human being has within herself, within himself, a moral standard, a private place that should be invited, the place you go when you reach for that last breath and can't get it, and you meet your maker, that place from which you should never be swayed or persuaded. It is a moral standard. And everybody should say, `I shall not be moved from this place.' That is to say, `I will not even live at any cost.'

GUMBEL: Do you find it easier, any easier, to write poetry than you find it, right--I mean, you and I wind up talking so many times about the angst you go through when you write.

ANGELOU: I know.

GUMBEL: The poem--poetry does not come easily to you?

Angelou: No, no. I love it. I pray a lot and I sing a lot, so I sang this song all through the writing of this book. `I shall not--I shall not be moved,' you know, I just sang it and sang it, and kept taking myself deeper and deeper into that resolve. And--but it's never easy, and--but some critics write and say, `Well, Maya Angelou has another book, and then it's good, but she's a natural writer.' It's like being a natural open-heart surgeon.

GUMBEL: It requires a lot of work.

ANGELOU: And prayer.

GUMBEL: Looking back at it now, after--and I'm not going to quote the years--X number of years, do you find it hard to imagine that there was a time when you were a voluntary mute?

ANGELOU: No. It's very easy. Muteness is like drugs. It's always there, just off my shoulder saying, `I got this for you. If you--if it's too bad, if people treat you too rudely, if you get too soft and too tender, then I have this for you. You don't have to speak.'

GUMBEL: "I Shall Not Be Moved" is the name of the book. Maya Angelou, it's always a pleasure to have you here. You know that.

ANGELOU: My pleasure to be here.

GUMBEL: Come on back and visit us whenever you can...

ANGELOU: I will do that.

GUMBEL: ...whenever Wake Forest lets you go.

ANGELOU: Thank you kindly.