Oprah: The big question I have for you is this: Where did your confidence come from? I've never seen anybody who exudes more confidence than you, and I don't mean false, modest bravado, but from the inside out, you've got the stuff.
Maya: There are so many gifts, so many blessings, so many sources that I can't say any one thing—unless that one thing is love. By love I don't mean indulgence. I do not mean sentimentality. And in this instance, I don't even mean romance. I mean that condition that allowed humans to dream of God. To make it. To imagine golden roads. That condition that allowed the "dumb" to write spirituals and Russian songs and Irish lilts. That is love, and it's so much larger than anything I can conceive. It may be the element that keeps the stars in the firmament. And that love, and its many ways of coming into my life, has given me a great deal of confidence about life.
Oprah: So when you walk into a room and heads turn, it's not just confidence in yourself that we see?
Maya: Oh, no. That's why, though I was never pretty, I did command something—because of my reliance on life.
Oprah: When we see you, we're seeing all of your history.
Maya: That's right—all of my history as an African-American woman, as a Jewish woman, as a Muslim woman. I'm bringing everything I ever knew [and all the stories I've read]—everything good, strong, kind and powerful. I bring it all with me into every situation, and I will not allow my life to be minimized by anybody's racism or sexism or ageism. I will not. So I will take the Scandinavian story of the little princess, I will take the story of Heidi in the Alpine mountains, I will take the story of O-Lan in Pearl S. Buck's book The Good Earth, I will take them all. I take them, and I know them, and I am them. So when I walk into a room, people know that somebody has come in—they just don't know it's 2,000 people!
Oprah: How do you remain connected to those who came before you?
Maya: I have the blessing of seeing our connection and the courage to admit what I see. Timidity makes a person modest. It makes him or her say, "I'm not worthy of being written up in the record of deeds in heaven or on earth." Timidity keeps people from their good. They are afraid to say, "Yes, I deserve it."
Oprah: I know you don't believe in modesty.
Maya: I hate it. It makes me wary. Modesty is a learned affectation. And as soon as life slams the modest person against the wall, that modesty drops.
Oprah: So when you hear someone being modest....
Maya: I run like hell. The minute you say to a singer, "Would you sing?" and they say, "Oh, no. I can't sing here," I say, "Oops! I wonder, where is that train to Bangkok?"
Maya: Because that person is not reliable. She may not know it, but modesty speaks volumes about falseness.