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Festival of Books: Tavis Smiley's travels with his mentor, Maya Angelou

Festival of Books: Tavis Smiley's travels with his mentor, Maya Angelou
Tavis Smiley, author of "My Journey with Maya," speaks at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on the USC campus. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

The first time author Tavis Smiley met the late poet and writer Maya Angelou was as a representative of L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley's office.

Though he was only in her presence for five minutes, the meeting was the beginning of a lifelong mentor-mentee relationship which he chronicles in his latest book "My Journey With Maya."

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He calls Angelou one of his five mothers, women in his life who've had a profound impact. "Her presence and the power in her presence was so palpable," he said.

Onstage at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on Saturday, he recalled memorable moments with the poet. Angelou died last year at 86.

His first time out of the country was on a trip to Africa for two weeks with Angelou. He carried her bags, meeting the likes of activist Stokely Carmichael along the way.

Over 28 years, the two debated about the greatest of all virtues. Smiley chose love. Angelou chose courage.

The last time Smiley saw Angelou give a lecture was in the Bovard Auditorium on USC's campus. But, as he said, seeing her in person was never boring as one would expect a lecture to be.

"It never was a lecture or a speech. It was what I called the Maya Experience. She'd sing, do a little dance."

One of the best things Angelou ever told him: "I am human and because I am human, nothing human is alien to me."

Check out the Festival of Books schedule for this weekend.

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