The incredible life advice Maya Angelou gave writer MK Asante

MK Asante, 35, educator/filmmaker/author

Auntie Maya used to always end her messages with “Joy, joy!”

Maya Angelou was a mentor. We met when I was in graduate school studying screenwriting at UCLA in 2012. I had an idea for a movie. I meant to call her agent, but she answered the phone.

I heard, “Helloooo.

I was like, "Hold up! Ain’t no agent that sounds like that.” I wasn’t nervous before, but when I heard her voice I started talking very fast. A mile a minute.

It completely caught me off guard. I wanted her to narrate my film, The Black Candle. She called me back and said not only did she want to narrate the movie, but she’d also help me write it. She was the only person I’ve ever taken my hat off for. She was very funny and playful. She was so warm and loving but she also knew how to be firm.

Camera icon Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer

Over the years, I went back to her house in North Carolina. We talked about writing and life. She met my son. She worked with me at a time when she didn't have to. She told me in our last in-person conversation with her in 2012 to “tell the truth, but there’s no need to tell the brutal truth because the truth is brutal enough.”

One thing I learned from her is that you have to make joy. She was successful in designing and creating her own reality and in doing that she was making moments of joy. In her voice, you could hear the alchemy that it takes to be truly joyous. To be truly be joyous in this world you have to be an alchemist. When you hear her voice, you don't just hear the joy but the pain and resilience. It is not in the dark. It is understanding of the world. It finds the joy in the conversations, finds joy in the putting together of sentences to inspire folks, joy in the birds and hearing them sing. That’s it. 

Camera icon michael bryant / Staff Photographer

I had a talk at Wake Forest University and she wanted to speak with me before I went. She told me that charisma is when you walk into the room with every positive word that anybody’s ever said to you, with every gentle hand that’s ever laid rest on your body, you walk into the room with every piece of art that has ever inspired you, you walk into the room with every song that you love. You walk into the room with your great-grandma’s hands and your great-grandpa's determination. You walk into a room with all of that and people will say you have charisma.

So she said, "I won't be able to make it, but bring me with you." I knew what she was talking about. I keep that joy by having charisma and bringing all my people with me.

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