Sharing memories, meals

September 29, 2004|By Amy Culbertson | Amy Culbertson,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Maya Angelou, poet, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, civil-rights leader, historian, dancer, singer, actor, director, teacher, has written a new book called Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories With Recipes (Random House, $29.95), now in bookstores.

In it, Angelou, 76, uses remembered meals and dishes as a prism through which to view her own life, its turning points and its intersections with the lives of others.

"I am a writer, and I am a cook," Angelou says on the phone from her home in Winston-Salem, N.C. The cooks in the vignettes of The Welcome Table take care in deciding on exactly the right dish to cook for the moment at hand. And the moments in her life that Angelou chooses to illuminate by those vignettes are telling, indeed.

We meet her grandmother, Annie Henderson, who gave her the conviction that she was loved and special as a child in Stamps, Ark., and to whose memory Angelou still turns for guidance. We meet her adored brother, Bailey, who protected her during her early school years and cooked with her during her days as a struggling young mother in San Francisco.

We meet her mother, Vivian Baxter, whose mantra was self-reliance and who taught Angelou's 6-year-old son to make bread pudding for his mother.

Besides the recipes and the enjoyment of her richly recalled vignettes, what does Angelou hope readers will take from the book?

"I hope they'll take encouragement to look at their own lives and see when food has brought someone into their own lives," she says.

When she cooks for herself, she says, "I do everything I would do if I was having a romantic dinner. ... I give myself the best, and then I'm able to share willingly and eagerly."

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