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Semesterlong 'Exploring the Human Experience' culminates with Maya Angelou's commencement talk

Robin Kaler, assistant chancellor for public affairs
(217) 333-5010


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Poetry, dance, theater and music will highlight a series of academic and cultural events during the spring semester at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The events are part of the "Exploring the Human Experience" initiative announced by Chancellor Nancy Cantor in connection with the commencement addresses May 12 by Maya Angelou.

The Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, Angelou is the author of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" (1970) and 10 other best-selling books. Angelou was the recipient of the Langston Hughes Award (1991), a distinguished merit citation from the National Conference of Christians and Jews (1997) and the International Civil and Human Rights Award (1998).

All of the non-commencement events will tie in to ideas Angelou raises in her work.

In the English department, several faculty members plan to incorporate Angelou’s work into their courses. Professor Cary Nelson, who is teaching a course on race and poetry, will discuss Angelou’s poetry in that context. English 373, taught by professor Ramona Curry, will use an Angelou documentary during the course on film and TV documentary. M. Casey Diana’s English 246 course on African-American short fiction will culminate with a study of Angelou’s short stories. Poets Michael Harper and Mike Doty will read from their works and lecture in English classes while on campus in February and April.

In women's studies, a Feb. 16 workshop will center on women and creativity; Feb. 18 will feature a "conversation with composer Augusta Read Thomas" (at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts). The week of April 15 will include a panel discussion of an Angelou poem and a poem by Emily Dickinson.

Teresa Savage, the associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Communications, will teach a spring semester course titled "Maya Angelou the Communicator: A Case Study in Mass Media and Culture." The class will focus on Angelou’s work to develop a cultural perspective concerning journalism and mass communication.

Afro-American studies will explore the place and role of the American South in contemporary African-American imagination, pan-African relations, and black women and rape. On March 4, the department will screen "Down in the Delta," a film directed by Angelou. A discussion will follow.

A campuswide book reading is being organized that is expected to include speakers, panels, informal discussions, performances and readings at a variety of locations.

Also in April, Renae McNeal will be on campus to perform her one-person piece about rape and sexual assault of black women.

Other events:

orange dot A series of films to be shown at the campus YMCA throughout the semester.

orange dot A seminar, featuring alumni, focusing on corporate downsizing and how to deal with it.

orange dot A free performance by a major artistic group at the Assembly Hall in April.

orange dot A campuswide conversation organized by student groups to explore what it means to be a member of what is being called the 9/11 generation.

orange dot A spring Studio Dance II performance with "Exploring the Human Experience" as its theme.