Oprah: And she nursed you back to health. And then one day she handed you her .38—
Maya: And she said, "I want you to shoot him. I promise you won't do a day in jail. Kill him." She had friends who knew him and had put the word out on him. She told me where he was.
Oprah: I wouldn't mess with Vivian Baxter.
Maya: No. Never.
Oprah: The fact that she had a .38 to hand her daughter...
Maya: Please. Vivian Baxter had ammunition of every sort. Little bitty Italian pistols. And .45s and .38s. German Lugers. Everything.
Oprah: So tell me about the moment when she handed you the gun. Did you think for a minute that you would use it to kill him?
Maya: Well, I knew I wanted to follow her orders....
Oprah: Just like when you went down to the streetcar office.
Maya: But I also knew it was very unlikely that I would actually shoot. She told me to call him and tell him to meet me on the corner, and I did that, and I had the pistol in my hand. And when he came out, he said, "Oh, please, don't kill me, Maya. I love you. I'm sorry; I love you." And I couldn't. It's not my nature. My mother said, "Well, you must've gotten that from your grandmother, because you didn't get it from me. I'd shoot him down like a dog in the street."
Oprah: And she was not playing.
Maya: She was not playing.
Oprah: When your son, Guy, was only 2 months old, you moved out of your mother's house, and I love what she said to you as you were leaving. She said, "All right, you go, but when you cross my doorstep, you have already been raised. With what you have learned from your grandmother Henderson in Arkansas and what you have learned from me, you know the difference between right and wrong.... And then remember this: You can always come home."
Maya: She did. And whenever the world would throw me flat on my face with this little baby I was trying to raise while working, singing songs and dancing, I would go home to Vivian Baxter. She would act as if it was the best thing that had ever happened. She'd call her friends.
Oprah: And even when you were 16 and pregnant, she did not shame you.
Maya: Not at all. She said, "Do you know who the father is?" I said yes. She asked me, "Do you love him?" No. "Does he love you?" No. Then she said, "We're not gonna ruin three lives. We're gonna have a beautiful baby."
Maya: And she loved my son. She was a knockout, Vivian Baxter.
Oprah: You write in the book that she was not a good mother to young children.
Maya: No, she was terrible. She explained to me once that when I was 2 or 3 years old, I had asked her for something and slapped her on the leg—we were sitting on the porch—and she backhanded me right off the porch and into the dirt! I'm so glad she sent me away as a young person [to live with my grandmother]. But this woman was the greatest mother of young adults. She told me once when I was 22, "Baby, you know, I think you're the greatest woman I've ever met. Mary McLeod Bethune, Eleanor Roosevelt and my mother—you're in that category. Give me a kiss." I looked down on this woman that people called Lady, and she owned hotels and things, and people admired her and some were frightened of her. Rightly. And I thought, "Suppose she's right. Suppose I really am going to be somebody. Maybe I should stop drinking and smoking and cursing." Well, I did stop cursing, from that day forward—I still don't!
Next: Maya Angelou on receiving an honor from the President