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Angelou Journeys Onto the Bestseller List

October 28, 1993|PAUL D. COLFORD

A bestseller list dominated by Howard Stern's "Private Parts" and Jerry Seinfeld's "SeinLanguage" would seem to have little room for transcendent essays about spirituality and personal style.

But Maya Angelou is back on the list for the second time this year, with "Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now," published by Random House on Oct. 1.

Nine months after mesmerizing millions with the reading of her Inauguration Day poem, "On the Pulse of Morning," which became a bestseller in a 16-page paperback, Angelou now reflects on lessons learned--in two- and three-page essays that pass as easily as an evening breeze.

A woman, she writes, "will need to prize her tenderness and be able to display it at appropriate times in order to prevent toughness from gaining total authority and to avoid becoming a mirror image of those men who value power above life, and control over love."

In another, she muses: "If a promise is not kept, or if a secret is betrayed, or if I experience long-lasting pain, I begin to doubt God and God's love. I fall so miserably into the chasm of disbelief that I cry out in despair. Then the Spirit lifts me up again, and once more I am secured in faith."

Reached in North Carolina, where she is teaching the philosophy of liberation at Wake Forest University--"I just mumble around," she said with a laugh--she expressed puzzlement about why readers have responded to her latest volume. First printing: 300,000 copies.

"I do believe that the reading public is reaching out for something that is accessible," she added. "With a book on dogs (Elizabeth Marshall's "The Hidden Life of Dogs"), Stern's book and others, perhaps the reading public gets them in the belief that they can understand them. But I want to be accessible--to probe, but also to be clear. . . .

"Nathaniel Hawthorne said that easy reading is damn hard writing. I like to get my ideas over without standing on a soapbox."

Angelou, 65, started by writing a few inspirational essays for Essence magazine late last year. The response was so appreciative--"Oprah Winfrey called me and said, 'We need more of this' "--that she sat back down and considered other lessons from her journey to form the new book.

Meanwhile, the interest in what Angelou has to say extends to her first title, the autobiographical "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," published 23 years ago. The Bantam edition has been rooted among paperback bestsellers for 36 weeks.

Her Weekly

After less than a month of the New York newspaper war, the newest combatant has retrenched in hopes of fighting another day. Her New York, launched as a daily tabloid for New York's working women on Oct. 1, resumes life tomorrow as a weekly.

Since former New York Post Publisher Steven Hoffenberg started the paper, it has lost one editor-in-chief, Marcia Cohen, and picked up a second, Anne Mollegen Smith. The switch to weekly frequency resulted in 22 layoffs late last week.

As Smith explained, the staff was "stretched too thin" to produce a daily without serious strain, and technical problems plagued the printing of 100,000 copies at the Record, in Hackensack, N. J., and at a location on Long Island.

"We're now going to redefine ourselves better rather than simply go down in flames," she said. This will mean more news features, less hard news.

In addition, the newsstand price will double, to $1 a copy, with a so-called controlled circulation of freebies being distributed to airline shuttles, health clubs and certain Manhattan neighborhoods in a bid to court advertisers' favor.

Still, the biggest challenge remains: to alter New Yorkers' entrenched buying habits so that they will lay down a buck for yet another newspaper.

Baseball's Diamond

With the World Series over, the baseball season ended, fans can still dwell on the game in the pages of the Diamond--a handsome new keepsake of a magazine that trades in the lore of the Major Leagues. Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew, Reggie Jackson and Brooks Robinson, this month's cover boy, continue to take the field in this monthly chronicle of the boys of summer.

Standing features include "There Used to Be a Ballpark," in which former players recall vanished diamonds (such as Bobby Shantz on Philadelphia's Shibe Park and Bill Mazeroski on Pittsburgh's Forbes Field), and "Larry King Remembers," written by the die-hard Brooklyn Dodgers fan, along with generous coverage of the old Negro Leagues.

Said Executive Editor Ron Bianchi: "We want to try to bring back the glory of the game."

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