Talent Is Like Electricity

Maya Angelou? Claudia Tate? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: An insightful simile likens the creative talent displayed by an individual while dancing, composing, teaching, or singing to electricity. This figure of speech has been attributed to Renaissance woman Maya Angelou. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1983 Claudia Tate edited and released a collection of interviews titled “Black Women Writers At Work”. Tate asked Maya Angelou about her manifold resourcefulness 1

C.T.: You are a writer, poet, director, composer, lyricist, dancer, singer, journalist, teacher and lecturer. Can you say what the source of such creative diversity is?

ANGELOU: I don’t do the dancing anymore. The rest I try. I believe talent is like electricity. We don’t understand electricity. We use it. Electricity makes no judgment. You can plug into it and light up a lamp, keep a heart pump going, light a cathedral, or you can electrocute a person with it. Electricity will do all that. It makes no judgment. I think talent is like that. I believe every person is born with talent.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1989 the interview was reprinted in the scholarly compilation “Conversations with Maya Angelou” edited by Jeffrey M. Elliot. 2

In 1992 “The Beacon Book of Quotations by Women” edited by Rosalie Maggio included the quotation: 3

I believe talent is like electricity. We don’t understand electricity. We use it. Electricity makes no judgment. You can plug into it and light up a lamp, keep a heart pump going, light a cathedral, or you can electrocute a person with it. Electricity will do all that. It makes no judgment. I think talent is like that. I believe every person is born with talent.

Maya Angelou, in Claudia Tate, ed., Black Women Writers at Work (1983)

In 1993 the quotation appeared in “21st Century Dictionary of Quotations” edited by The Princeton Language Institute. 4

In conclusion, Maya Angelou deserves credit for this simile which she employed during an interview with Claudia Tate which was published in 1983.

Image Notes: Picture of a Tesla coil from Hans Braxmeier at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

Notes:

  1. 1985 (1983 Copyright), Black Women Writers At Work, Edited by Claudia Tate, Chapter: Maya Angelou, Start Page 1, Quote Page 7, Oldcastle Books, England. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1989 Copyright, Conversations with Maya Angelou, Edited by Jeffrey M. Elliot, Series: Literary Conversations, Interview of Maya Angelou by Claudia Tate conducted in 1983, Start Page 146, Quote Page 152, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1992 Copyright, The Beacon Book of Quotations by Women, Compiled by Rosalie Maggio, Topic: Talent, Quote Page 316, Column 1, Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1993, 21st Century Dictionary of Quotations, Edited by The Princeton Language Institute, Topic: Talent, Quote Page 433, The Philip Lief Group: Dell Publishing: A Division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, New York. (Verified with scans)