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The Ups, Downs Between Iyanla Vanzant And Oprah Winfrey

MICHEL MARTIN, host: Now, we're joined by someone who has had a different relationship with Oprah, one of high's and low's. Iyanla Vanzant became famous as a spiritual mentor, best-selling author, and regular guest on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." She appeared on the show 20 times during 1998 and 1999. She was on track to become one of Oprah's proteges - like Dr. Phil or Nate Berkus - with her own show, but she parted ways in a disagreeable note over a decade ago. She writes about that experience and the lesson learned in her most recent book, "Peace from Broken Pieces," and then she actually returned to "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on this final season and talked about it.

And she's with us now. Iyanla Vanzant, welcome back, thank you for...


MARTIN: ...for joining us.

VANZANT: Thank you.

MARTIN: I think we just need to lay the groundwork for people who don't know the whole story. After being on the program, as we said, some 20 times, you thought you were ready for your own show. You were, in fact, offered an opportunity by Barbara Walters - the ABC News journalist who also is a producer. And then when you went to speak with people at Harpo, to sort of negotiate this, they said that they felt that they were not ready to give you your own show.

You were on track to do so, but they weren't ready to roll with it.

VANZANT: Yeah, well, that's not what they said to me (unintelligible).

MARTIN: Oh, is that right? All right, well, then tell me what - then so, you went and what did they say to you?

VANZANT: Okay, we had a conversation and the first conversation was, do you want your own show now or are you willing to wait and I said, I'm willing to wait. Then after I got approached by so many people Barwall wasn't the only producer. I said, wait a minute, hold up, maybe there's something going on here I need to look at. So, I went back to Harpo and said, are you willing to my show now?

I know that I said I would wait, but let me tell you why. And that's where I made my mistake, because I went into this long explanation about how everybody had approached me and I think I'm ready now, and blah, blah, blah, not knowing the nuance in the business that they received that as me trying to leverage a deal. And they were insulted and offered the invitation not to come back.


VANZANT: Not to come back.

MARTIN: When you talked about this on the program it became very emotional. As you said, you actually returned after this break. You did wind up doing another program. It was not successful, either for you or for the producers of it. And then Oprah asked you why you considered the counter offers - and this is what she had to say.

OPRAH WINFREY: Not only did I like you, I would leave the stage and give you the stage because I liked you so much.

VANZANT: And you hear, I didn't know that.

WINFREY: What did you think that meant? What did you think that meant when I am sitting in the audience and letting you sit on stage and run the show?

VANZANT: I hadn't worked hard enough for it.

MARTIN: Now, I'm going to ask you about this. This was very water cooler and there were some people who felt that the whole thing was kind of demeaning. Why should you have to go and, kind of, prostrate yourself over a business deal? On the other hand, some people thought it was refreshingly honest, because business is very emotional, even if people don't want to admit that.


MARTIN: Talk a little bit about that, if you would.

VANZANT: Well for me, as a powerful woman in the media, as a writer, and Oprah powerful woman on television - in particular, it's two black women - it was real clear that there was a rift between us. My intention was to mend the relationship. So, I went to have a conversation with her. She wanted to have it publicly on the show, so that we, as two women, two powerful women, two black women, could heal our relationship and be a demonstration of how that would happen.

MARTIN: But why should your relationship have been rift - or why should there have been a rift, anyway, over a business relationship? Because the fact is, Oprah negotiates...

VANZANT: All the time.

MARTIN: All the time. So, what's so terrible about negotiating?

VANZANT: Well, here's what I think. I think that as an up and coming, as a prot�g�, a certain level of loyalty is required of you - expected of you - and I didn't demonstrate that level of loyalty. And I think that would be true for Oprah. I think, had I stayed, it would have been true for Barbara Walters, I mean look at the big rift that happened when Star left "The View." So, I think this...

MARTIN: Star Jones.

VANZANT: Star Jones. Right but I think there's a certain a requisite of obligation and a loyalty that's - and I didn't know any of that. So here I go, Nell from the country, you know, saying, okay, I said that but now I mean this, and I want it because so many other people are asking me, I want you to give it to me. And how did I know that was a business no-no? I didn't know.

MARTIN: What I'm telling you is, it's not. I mean, the fact is, in the world of business, people negotiate. They say, you know what, I'm receiving other offers and I appreciate what you've done for me, but I'd like to expedite the time table. Tell me what's so terrible.

VANZANT: Well, let me say this. And this is why, what you heard in the clip when I said I didn't know it was about me. I never had a conversation with Oprah, ever. People thought that we were best friends and we went to lunch all the time. I had never had a conversation with her. So, all of this that translated, happened between me and her lawyer, me and her EP - not between me and Oprah.

So, as she said on the show, you know, we told you no. We didn't. Maybe you told them to tell me. That message never got to me - that I wasn't ready. Never. First of all, I'm a Virgo. So if you had told me I wasn't ready, oh, my ears would have perked up. I would have needed to be ready, because I'm not doing anything I'm not ready for, never have been. So, I never spoke to her.

We never spoke.

MARTIN: What do you think is the lesson in all of this? Because obviously, you know, Oprah Winfrey's, you know, a huge figure. She's regularly on the list of the most influential people in media - most admired women. What do you think is the lesson here, from all this? I think for some people, it's particularly painful to see the two of you fall out because you're both appreciated and admired women and African-American women. On the other hand, some people look at this and say, what is up with that that you can't have a business disagreement without being perceived as wrong for doing it?

When you perceive that something is in your own best interests to do.

VANZANT: Well, I think that there's a number of lessons. For me there was the personal lesson of not having a foundation. In this level of living, this level of success, making it up as I go along, not understanding, really, the protocols and the nuances...

MARTIN: Not being able to trust? Not being able to trust if someone cares about you?

VANZANT: Not knowing who to trust. At the business...

MARTIN: Can I just say that the personal lesson was maybe you weren't ready to have your own show, and they knew that and you didn't.

VANZANT: Absolutely, because I didn't know the industry. I didn't - can I do what I could do on television? Absolutely. That doesn't change. I've got the character and the content. But in terms of the mechanics and the negotiating and the deals, you know - and I was doing it on my own. Who walks into a major television network to negotiate a deal on your own? You have an agent, you have a manager, you have an EP. I didn't have any of that.

So, I was out of my league and didn't know it. That's on the personal level - and for me, the business level. I can't speak to what it was for Oprah, personally. I cannot speak to that. What I can speak to, for Harpo, was this whole thing in the industry of, as a talent, you're almost a commodity. So for me to even have a conversation with these other people and then come back and report it, was just a little naive.


VANZANT: Just a little naive.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Iyanla Vanzant author, spiritual mentor, minister. We're talking about rebounding from some of life's hard knocks. We're also marking the last week of Oprah Winfrey's program on network television after some 25 years. And we've been visiting with people who have a relationship with Oprah. Iyanla Vanzant is one of those people with kind of an up and down relationship with Oprah. More up at the end, I would say.

How do you feel after doing those two programs, good experience?

VANZANT: Well, it was a good experience because I had no idea that this woman Oprah Winfrey thought that I had given her an ultimatum. And I said to her, how am I am going to give Oprah Winfrey an ultimatum? That was, to me, unbelievable. But that's how she felt.

MARTIN: So, as you and I are speaking, it's before most of us will have seen the grand finale.


MARTIN: But you were there?

VANZANT: Yes, I was there, I was invited.

MARTIN: And what was it like?

VANZANT: It was phenomenal, really. And the thing that I really appreciated, was that it was really for the fans. For me there were two highlights. The one was that Oprah - little known fact - that she has a scholarship initiative at Morehouse College for Men in Atlanta. And since the time she began, 351 men have had full scholarship rides through Morehouse on her dime. They were all there, in suits and ties, with a candle. Talk about weep your eyeballs out, okay?

And they all walked out - doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, special ed teachers - they were all there and they surrounded her. We all lost it. And the second thing that just dropped my jaw, Aretha Franklin looking like a godsend, singing, "Amazing Grace." OK, shut the front door.

MARTIN: So, you were there, so, the thing has come full circle. You were back?

VANZANT: It has.

MARTIN: And that's an instant - so, obviously one of the things, I think, that was uncomfortable and painful for a lot of people watching this, is to watch two African American women who've achieved something, in a beef. On the other hand, why shouldn't you have a disagreement because we're human and humans are allowed to have a disagreement.


MARTIN: But there, I think, do you agree that was something particularly kind of painful about the fact that you, as among the people in whom she had taken an interest...

VANZANT: Yeah, it was hurtful because there was no explanation. There was no conversation. We can heal anything if there's a conversation. As I said, I never spoke to her. I spoke to her attorney and I spoke to her EP at the time. And I said, help me understand. And what I got was, you know, you tell us that somebody big in television has made you a deal - who's bigger than we are? So, that was a little shocking.

MARTIN: So goodbye. So that's it.

VANZANT: Right, and I didn't mean it in that way at all. I really didn't. So...

MARTIN: So, in a part with your - I think I'm hearing you saying - this is, in part, like a failure of mentorship, in the fact that you really didn't have just a guide to help you navigate...


MARTIN: ...this business. and that's in part - but couldn't she have been that for you?

VANZANT: Yes, but it would have meant that A: she had a pure conversation with me, looked me in my eye and let me explain - you explain. I would have, had I understood, I would have apologized back then. OK, that's not what I mean, please forgive me. I'm, you know, I'm not big, I mean, I have that much character that I could have explained. But it wasn't. There was no conversation.

So, it's the power of a conversation, it's the power of connection. Because I was treated as though I was a commodity. Come here, do this work and go home. And so, I didn't feel welcome. I didn't feel wanted. I didn't feel appreciated. And as a result, never recognized that she was sitting in the audience and giving me her stage. Imagine if I sent you candy and flowers every single day, but when you call me I didn't pick up the phone. What would you think?

I don't matter. They just want me for what I do. And that's what I thought.

MARTIN: And, as we talked about before, you've talked about before, you've had other difficult times in your life - spent years in an abusive relationship, struggled financially, lost your daughter. Still so very sorry about that.


MARTIN: Now you've got the new book. When you were on the program, one of Oprah's questions to you was, how do you know when you've healed from an issue?

VANZANT: You know that you've healed an issue when you can talk about it and you're not weeping, when you can speak to it and identify the lesson. You know that you've healed an issue when, having gone through that, has a benefit that you live today.

MARTIN: Iyanla Vanzant is a spiritual mentor the author of numerous best selling books. Her most recent book is Peace spelled P-E-A-C-E from Broken Pieces that's P-I-E-C-E-S and she was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Iyanla thank you so much for joining us.

VANZANT: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.