Maya Angelou's memoirs to be dramatised for Radio 4

Maya Angelou's memoirs to be dramatised for Radio 4

BBC's Radio 4 will broadcast dramatisations of six of Maya Angelou’s memoirs for the first time, 90 years after her birth.

Beginning with I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings (Virago) on 18th June, the dramas will feature "three Maya Angelous at different stages in her life", beginning in childhood with Indie Gjesdal playing the young Maya and continuing with Pippa Bennett-Warner playing the adult Maya.

Angelou’s works have been dramatised by award-winning playwrights Patricia Cumper, Janice Okoh and Winsome Pinnock.

In addition to the dramatisations, Radio 4 is working with Aardman to create an animation in celebration of Maya Angelou’s life and work which will be available on the channel's website.

Over six series a crucial period of black history is revealed, and a period of change that would alter attitudes, culture and society irrevocably, according to a Radio 4 spokesperson.

The memoirs see her survive racial and physical abuse growing up as a child in the deep South, working as a prostitute and pimp, dancer and singer and finally winning acclaim as a poet and writer and working directly in civil rights.  

The author wrote seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years.

She won three Grammys, a Tony, a National Book Award, and was nominated for a Pulitzer. Angelou would go on to be the first poet in over 30 years to make an inaugural recitation during Bill Clinton's ceremony and would later receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest US civilian award) from Barack Obama.

Jeremy Howe, Radio 4’s commissioning editor for drama and fiction, said: “The books that make up the life and times of Maya Angelou are some of the best, most beautiful and haunting pieces of autobiography I have ever read.

"They run the gamut from life affirming to tragedy and back again with a tone that is a joyous, direct and searingly honest, and are an extraordinary portrait of 20th century black America. To turn these wonderful books into drama we have assembled the 'A team': between them Patricia Cumper, Winsome Pinnock and Janice Okoh have won awards aplenty and have written hours of wonderful radio drama."

He described the programmes as "an event worth waiting for".

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings will kick off the programmes, from 18th to 22nd June, followed by Gather Together In My Name, airing between 6th and 10th August, then Singin’ and Swingin’ between 1st and 5th October, and Getting Merry Like Christmas, from 1st to 5th October. The following month The Heart of a Woman is dramatised (November 26th to 30th) before All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes airs between 7th and 11th January. A Song Flung Up To Heaven will complete the series, running from 25th February to 1st March.

Angelou died in 2014 aged 86.