BBC Radio 4 begins a landmark tribute in an unprecedented dramatisation series of SIX of Maya Angelou’s extraordinary autobiographies.

The series begins June 18th 2018 and continues into 2019, her 90th birthday year, using a collection of award-winning Black British women playwrights (Cumper, Okoh and Pinnock) and a wealth of quality British Black acting talent –  Adjoa Andoh, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ellen Thomas, Danny Sapani, Paapa Essiedu and Sope Dirisu!

The dramas will present Angelou at different stages in her life, beginning in childhood with the most celebrated and ground-breaking 1969’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, the first in a seven-volume series, on 18th June. ‘Caged Bird’  has never been out of print, and has been published in multiple languages. Nominated for a National Book Award in 1970, it remained on The New York Times paperback bestseller list for two years. It has been used in high schools and universities, credited for creating new literary avenues for the American memoir and celebrated for its themes, structure and rich prose style. It was amongst the first wave of post-civil rights female-centric African American literature, as Angelou transforms from a mute victim of racism with an inferiority complex into a self-possessed, dignified young woman capable of responding to prejudice. Time Magazine placed the book in its list of 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923.

Dramatised by Patricia Cumper, and narrated by the super-accomplished voice, TVT film and stage actress, Adjoa Andoh, Indie Gjesdal plays young Maya, with Pippa Bennett-Warner continuing as adult Maya. They are supported by Nikki Amuka-Bird (Luther, NW1, Denial) as Mrs. Flowers, leading an all-star cast with Cecilia Noble (Nine Night, Black Mirror, Call The Midwife) as Momma, Paapa Essiedu (RSC’s Hamlet, Kiri) as Bailey, and Samuel Anderson (Dr Who), Ellen Thomas (In The Long Run, Humans), Danny Sapani (Black Panther, The Crown), Sope Dirisu (Undercover, Coriolanus, Black Mirror) and Roshawn Hewitt.

Directed and produced by Pauline Harris for BBC Radio 4, the transmission schedule runs periodically, from now until March 2019.

  • 18th – 22nd June 2018, 10.45 am, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings;
  • 6th – 10th August 2018, 10.45 am, Gather Together In My Name – both dramatised by Patricia Cumper.
  • 1st – 5th October 2018, 10.45am, Singin’ And Swingin’ and Getting Merry Like Christmas, dramatised by Winsome Pinnock,
  • 6th – 30th November 2018, The Heart Of A Woman. Dramatised by Janice Okoh
  • 7th – 11th January 2019, All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes;
  • 25th February – 1st March 2019, A Song Flung Up To Heaven, both dramatised by Patricia Cumper.

Maya Angelou’s unique life encapsulates a crucial period of African history in the Americas.

As rich and diverse as her life was – surviving racial and physical abuse growing up as a child in the deep South, working as a prostitute and pimp, dancer and singer; becoming poet and writer and working directly in civil rights, it is only one aspect of the African Diasporan story from the 1930s to the late 1960s.

Still, Angelou’s achievement is impressive. She published 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. She was the first poet in over thirty years to make a US presidential inaugural recitation: during Bill Clinton’s ceremony. She would later receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest US civilian award, from President Barack Obama.

Jeremy Howe, Radio 4’s Commissioning Editor for Drama and Fiction, says: “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. Radio 4’s celebration of Maya Angelou is an event worth waiting for.

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 via the Radio 4 website.


The podcasts will be available shortly after each broadcast, beginning 18th June 2018 with I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

Find out more here.

Fan of audio performance? BBC Radio 4 regularly employs a large stable of Black British talent.

Fan of  Cherelle Skeete? There’s still time to check out her brilliant 10 part narration of Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God.  17 days left to listen here.