University announces new art award

Named for late great Professor Maya Angelou, the award will honor Wake Forest’s artists


Emily Toro, Staff Writer

Wake Forest will create an award recognizing the legacy of its late professor, Maya Angelou, an acclaimed American poet, storyteller, director, singer, actress and activist, among other roles.

A committee will solicit recommendations from the Wake Forest community for potential recipients of the award. To that end, students, faculty and students will be able to contribute by recommending artists.  The committee will determine, based on the opportunities of the potential artists and relationships the foundation has with them if they are worthwhile recipients.

“[The recipient will be] somebody whose work is already living in the legacy of her life when she was alive,” according to Associate Provost for the Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies Christina Soriano.

The committee’s concept is that, once an artist is selected, they will work with faculty, staff and students in a selected visual performing arts department and will be involved in and available for the Wake Forest community.

“It’s an intricate puzzle piece but it starts with our community helping make recommendations,” Soriano said.

For example, Angelou pursued her stage career for a period of time in the 1950s as a member of the cast in “Porgy and Bess” and traveled to New York to continue her performance career, according to the Poetry Foundation. In following her legacy, if applicable, the selected artist could be asked to attend a particular production rehearsal in the Performing Arts Department.

The recipient would not participate in a semester-long residency, though. Rather, they will engage with the community through art and music for a short period of time.

The award plans to highlight the university’s motto of Pro Humanitate, specifically by illustrating its connection to Angelou’s legacy of being a warrior for humanity. Angelou embodied the principles of Pro Humanitate through her social justice work and her passion for learning, according to Soriano.

Angelou, inspired by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message, decided to involve herself in the battle for civil rights and became the northern coordinator of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, according to the Poetry Foundation. She also joined the Harlem Writer’s Guild and eventually wrote six autobiographies detailing difficult subjects such as race, abuse and violence.

Because she faced so much hardship and witnessed so much injustice throughout her life, it took Angelou 15 years to write the final volume of her autobiography, entitled “A Song Flung up to Heaven.”

“I didn’t know how to write it,” Angelou told Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service interviewer Sherryl Connelly. “I didn’t see how the assassination of Malcolm [X], the Watts riot, the breakup of a love affair, then [the assassination of King], how I could get all that loose with something uplifting in it.”

Soriano hopes that the award will bridge the gap between Angelou’s Wake Forest legacy of yesteryears and the Demon Deacons of today.

“The award will be a way for generations of students who never knew her to know how important she was as a member of the Wake Forest community through the lives of artists who embody a little bit of what her life was like,” Soriano said.

Soriano added that when the call to recommend artists comes out in the fall, the committee encourages people to be a part of the process.

“There is transparency about it,” she said. “And we want to help support an artist that our colleagues and students think would be transformational for their work, their growth, and their development as artists.”