Remembering Maya Angelou: Thanksgiving at Bellagio, 1975

This week, The Rockefeller Foundation joins the global community in celebrating the life of Maya Angelou. As others share moving stories and favorite memories showcasing her spirit and generosity, we are proud to share one of our own.

Maya Angelou
Photo credit: Flickr user Adria Richards

In 1975, Maya Angelou spent time at The Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy writing the third part of her autobiography. In an essay first published in “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table,” and reprinted in the Bellagio Center’s “Visions and Voices” she writes of being one of the few women scholars at Bellagio and taking time from her writing to help cook Thanksgiving dinner.

After offering the chefs recipes for her cornbread, she was asked to join them in the kitchen to explain the unfamiliar ingredients. Overcoming language barriers, and working from polenta instead of cornmeal (and no baking powder at all), she recreated her cornbread for the cornbread stuffing as the kitchen staff looked on.

In her words,

“When the bread came from the oven, hot and smoking, the head chef was standing near me. We both looked at the orange brown crust. His eyes widened. He said, ‘Bella.’ I said, ‘This is the bread my people eat.'”


The meal was served to great applause.

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