|Maya Angelou Website|
In line with what I do, and honoring my history, I venerate Dr. Maya Angelou. She is the first author of color I read, and my greatest inspiration.
I can’t recall exactly how I came upon Maya’s book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, or what intrigued me to want to read it. Unless I was reading poetry, Paul Lawrence Dunbar being one poet I came to appreciate, I kept away from authors writing hard about their experiences of my history. I mean, one book I got a hold of, about a young girl and her brother living with this cruel slave master, did it for me. I vowed never to pick up another book like this ever again.
So, Richard Wright, Dick Gregory, Paul Robeson, who my father pressed upon me to read, I love to pieces and celebrate as well, but it took years before I could pick up one of their books and read from front to back. Maya is who I have to credit and thank for helping me to go back and read my history.
Like the poet Maya is, I opened her book, and while the story turned out to be painful indeed, the lyrical way in which her words grabbed me opened my eyes. I only read the book once, so memory of the story may not be wholly up to par, but the first thing that grabbed me were the name-tags pinned to her and her brother, Bailey. I pictured the train the two of them were put on and ushered off of, and them standing there on a dusty patch of land cluelessly waiting on what was next. This image touches me today.
Maya moves on to draw out her relationship with her grandmother and grandfather, and Bailey, and minding the store, and church, and what living in Stamps, Arkansas was like back then.
Another thing that grabbed me, and it’s funny because I’ve since even gone back and tried to find this phrase; when Maya speaking to her grandmother says, “by the way…” and gets slapped (I believe) for saying it. At the time when I read this, I had to reread it, and a few sentences around it, trying to figure out what was so wrong about her saying this. To this very day this phrase bugs me. Every time I say it, and I try to avoid writing it, it bothers me.
By the time I got to the hard parts in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the story had a hold on me. I was hanging in there with Maya, rooting for her, and wasn’t closing the book until the last page. And I didn’t, making this the first book of color written in a personable style that touched me deeply and encouraged me to read other authors of color.
Maya Angelou’s writing style and work is phenomenal. She is a tribute to many. I am very grateful for her opening my eyes to a voice I may have missed otherwise.
Maya Angelou's Official Website
Maya Angelou in Wikipedia