Book Club, Events

A Night with Maya Angelou

A Night with Maya Angelou.


At a glance the night was a wonderful mix of a warming and magical ambience, beaming with a friendship of joy, honesty, knowledge and love. I cannot recall ever having to recover from a relaxing night out, so when I woke up this morning (having not touched a drop of alcohol last night) feeling as if I had drunk my own body weight of rum I needed to collect my thoughts and feelings of last night and get them down for everyone to see! Friday night we added to the new chapter to the life of Maya Angelou that opened after her passing in June – her legacy. Her legacy and lasting imprint that she has made through her lessons of kindness – her lessons were always kind, no matter how harrowing the story, her openness, the platform she has built to allow other women to raise their voices and her ability to make others feel as if they knew her personally. We opened the night with a speech from Maya Angelou – from the Glamour Women of the Year Awards in 2009 and set the night up for a whirlwind affair with an abundance of inspiration.

From her own works to pieces that were inspired by her, the night took form in a range of incredible performances that celebrated Maya’s work and her life. We opened the night with a beautiful young lady named Lauren Williams who is currently Birmingham’s Young Poet, her poem that was inspired by Maya’s poem ‘Still I Rise’, coloured the night with fresh hope – the perfect beginning to an illustrious night.

South African poet Tessa Lowe carried the night on with a deliciously wise section from Maya Angelou’s biography. Hearing a voice filled with knowledge tell a part of someone’s story that is in turn, filled with knowledge created the perfect mixture.

As the night took a turn – for the better – the guests were treated to an acoustic delight by multi-talented musician Alisha Kadir (who is also a talented poet). Who dished up with a blend of original songs and an incorporation of ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ into ‘If I Had A Boat’ by James Vincent McMorrow. Alisha set a relaxing tone with her alluring vocals and beautiful guitar chords.

After the break we were welcomed back by Nina Lewis, a poet who had just returned to the poetry scene, but you never would have thought that she had left! Her anthology of poems inspired by Maya Angelou captivated the guests. It was a pure joy to watch a creative in her element, reading her work, executed so delicately you couldn’t help but be moved.

And when we say the night had it all, it had it all. Dramatist Marlene McKenzie who is from the Shakti Women tribe but also runs a women’s theatre group, gave us a treat of reflection. She allowed us to explore our personal growth through a ten minute piece and a character that engaged and encouraged the audience to question their relationships with people who are producing negativity and self-doubt within our lives, the answers from the guests were inspiring to say the least!

Next former Birmingham Poet Laureate and a personal favourite, eloquent poet and play writer Jan Watts read two original poems, two insights to two personal lives inspired by Maya and how she had given women a platform to use their voices, Jan ended her section with a reading of Phenomenal Woman, the sparking, self-loving poem by the late Dr. Maya Angelou.

Before the night ended we asked Lauren to join us again and perform another poem, it was the the perfect end to the perfect night. A night that was shared by so many guests who all had the same thing in common, not just the love for a great woman but the experience of her, the ability to share their stories and raise their voices and this is the effect that Maya Angelou has reaped all over the world, in so many countries and in so many different women (and mens) lives.




There are two prominent things that I love about Birmingham that I believe are the ingredients to some of the best successes in this city. First is its talent and second is its women; so it makes sense that when I heard about the community Alto and its first all day event, I just had to be there and if you have met Anna and/or Holly (Alto’s curators) then you will understand why Alto is such a huge deal in a city full of equality like Brum.

If you haven’t heard of Alto (by now you should) then this is what it is about…

Alto is a community/collective that acts as platform for creative women of all backgrounds to be with like minded ladies, to share their work/business and support each other and the community keeps growing and going from strength to strength. Holly and Anna have created an invaluable support network, they have worked incredibly hard which was reflected in this event held at Cherry Red’s in Birmingham City Centre. These two ladies are a huge inspiration all by themselves.

The Event:

Held from 3pm to 11pm, unfortunately I wasn’t there for the whole day, but, what I did see (and I guess really witness, because magic like that falls under the phrase of ‘seeing is believing’ – you had to be there!) was utterly fabulous. So here are for me some of the key highlights of Alto’s first all-day event of the year.

There’s something exciting about the small journey to an event for me, as I climbed the mountainous steep stairs of Cherry Reds I began to get a rush of excitement and ambiguity in the pit of my stomach – a sense of ‘what is up those stairs and behind that door?’ washes over me, a bit like coming downstairs on Christmas morning as a child and not knowing what to expect. I managed to tackle the stairs, I got to the door and I stopped before pulling it open, taking a deep breath before taking in the rumbling excitement that was hidden behind the door. Opening it I was greeted by two rooms brimming with people, happy, enjoying themselves; a mix of people, talking, laughing, sharing and simply… being. This is what I call as a great reception to an event. After saying hello to Anna, I turned around to take the room in again and there it was… the box on the table – “What is Feminism – The ‘F’ Bomb” – with pens and paper to post your thoughts. And that was when I stopped to think, what does feminism mean to me? Well I would have to think about that for a little bit, let it percolate and try to make some sense out of something that means a great deal to me, however means so many different things at the same time. So let me tell you a little bit more about the event and then reveal what I discovered.

Something I love to feel at events is cosy and I felt right at home with the artwork of the fabulously talented artist Jenny Haruki hung upon the walls of Cherry Reds and above the fire place, the purpose of Alto is to help creatives showcase their work and what better way then to furnish the venue with Jenny’s eye catching pieces. With the simplicity of black and white lines and shading and beautiful women, she produces statements, not just art work. Check out her work, you won’t be disappointed: Jenny Haruki

The two bands that I want to write about, I have to write about together because of how they made me feel. Both bands include male and female members, both lead by female vocalists – who were strong and on fire! Shaake are an alternative band and there is something delicious about their music that does make you want to shake! The Mourning Suns, a psychedelic folk band with so much charisma and skin tingling notes that like any musical affair, I have to see them again!  The lead singers of both bands not only have vocals of diamond quality, sheer rough beauty with many facets, but hold a stage presence that translates to the audience, not just by their voice ability but by their physicality as performers. The lead singer of Shaake moved her body with the music in a way that anybody would when delivering the passion creatives have for their art. And Rosie Wilkes from the Mourning Suns represented everything that shows strength and again, passion in creative work, after still performing despite a personal event on the Sunday morning; that for anybody else would stop them from continuing to perform. It presents the drive and knowledge that doing something you love helps you get through the tough bits. Big, big, big love to Rosie! And the band for supporting her. Their performances reminded me why being a creative is just as realistic as any other career path, the emotion and feeling it can draw out is as real as anything else you can encounter in life – so the next time I hear someone with the opinion, ‘the arts is not a realistic career choice’ I will happily ask them to list the occasions when music has evoked something more than just easy listening for them.

Jodi Ann Bickley was there! This is the fangirl in me. She is an extremely gorgeous lady to have an event like Alto, I don’t know anyone that doesn’t love Jodi, she is not only an incredible woman but an amazing being. From being a multi-talented poet and spoken word artist, to fighting and getting on top of ME, to now the Best Selling author of One Million Lovely Letters, which is probably the loveliest mission in the world, she performed at Alto accompanied by an all female string group, silencing the room with her glittering poems and sparkling delivery. Jodi’s journey and story is inspiring and above all, lovely. If you don’t know about Jodi, then you should check her out now!

So, by the end of the night I was pretty exhausted, I think that’s what happens once excitement and enjoyment runs all the energy out of your body. The event was embellishment of what Alto stands for as a family of highly creative ladies and once you get involved you want to know, see, hear and explore more! But going back to the ‘F’ Bomb, can I now answer that question? Well, yes and no… I think I have a range of versions of answers and thoughts, but there are two things that for me, I believe can answer some part of what feminism means (for me anyway). The first being passionate strength; something that I saw in Alto was the strength of the women that made the event happen, the women that performed and the women that came. I think the difference between strength and passionate strength is, strength can be getting through something because you have to and not because you want to and passionate strength is getting through something or doing something because you not only want to but because it is driven by love and the biggest belief in what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. The second is closer to an idea of what feminism is; drawn out from what I saw when I got to the event, seeing a mix of men and women of all ages and backgrounds talking, drinking together, laughing and simply being. Being human, being there, and being together is what I saw at Alto, everyone supporting each other and showing love, was the pinnacle of the event and lights up the base fact that you don’t have to be female to be a feminist you just need to be.

A huge congratulations goes out to Anna and Holly for so effortlessly piecing together such a crazily wonderful event; I cannot wait to see/hear what is coming next so I’ll be constantly checking their page! Have a look at Alto and make sure to like the Facebook page – Alto 

J x