cover image My Journey With Maya

My Journey With Maya

Tavis Smiley, with David Ritz. Little, Brown, $24 (224p) ISBN 978-0-316-34175-2

This salute to the legendary Maya Angelou by PBS talk host Smiley is occasionally over-adoring, but it's totally respectful of the special achievements of the recently deceased cultural icon of black arts and history. A friendship between Angelou and the 21-year-old Smiley began with a chance meeting in Los Angeles when he was a junior mayor for former Mayor Tom Bradley in 1986. The meeting was the beginning of a decades-long close bond; Smiley made a triumphant trip to Ghana in Angelou's company and later accompanied her to events and dinners. Drawing from private chats, interviews, memories, and portions of Angelou's books, Smiley, with the help of ghostwriting maven Ritz, stuffs the tribute with mostly familiar material plus a few surprises about the author's personal life and career, including his combative time at BET. Smiley can do a heck of an impression of Angelou's warm, heartfelt voice when she speaks of black mythic figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, James Baldwin, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Richard Pryor. For Angelou admirers and those intrigued by black American culture, Smiley's glowing praise-song is a wonderful reminder of what Angelou's singular, exceptional presence meant to her community and the nation. (Apr.)