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NY1 Exclusive: Maya Angelou Embraces Harlem's Rebirth

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She's an American icon and few people know that she calls Harlem home. In a rare interview inside her Manhattan brownstone, Dr. Maya Angelou talks with NY1’s Cheryl Wills.

She’s a national treasure who has traveled and lived all over the world, but you’d better believe that Dr. Maya Angelou’s heart is in Harlem.

Relaxed and the picture of health inside her stunning uptown brownstone, the famed writer says Harlem is going through a rebirth.

"What we are dealing with is what has to be continually dealt with, that is a renaissance,” said Angelou.

This comes from a true renaissance woman. The octogenarian is still going strong – splitting her time between New York and North Carolina where she’s a professor at Wake Forest University.

But she took time out of her busy schedule last week to honor the late great writer James Baldwin, who was her very best friend. She made a special appearance at the Faison Firehouse Theater in Harlem to remember what would have been “Jimmy’s” 86th birthday.

“He just didn’t know how to lie, even to people he loved,” Angelou said. “So he would say to me, ‘yeah, well, um, no.’ And I loved him for it.”

Dr. Angelou has legions of fans who love her, too. She appreciates today’s stars like Common and Dave Chappelle, but she firmly condemns the common use of the “n-word” by some young artists.

“I think many of them have made a mistake, the young chaps and chappettes, made a mistake in thinking that they can use this word and extract from it the venom,” she said.

Whether she whooped it up with muppets or got jiggy with rappers, Angelou says she still has much more work to do. And for her, love is the message.

“I was loved by my grandmother who told me when I was a mute, I wouldn’t speak to anybody but my brother, for six years, my grandmother told me, ‘sister momma don’t care what these people say about you, ‘you must be an idiot. You must be a moron cause you can’t talk.’ Sister momma don’t care,” recalled Angelou. “ Momma know that when you and the Lord get ready, you gonna be a teacher. I have 65 doctorates. I teach in a number of languages all over the world. Love liberates. Love says, ‘I got your back.’”

Angelou is one of the most honored writers of her generations. In addition to her 65 doctorates, she received the National Medal of the Arts and was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

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