Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

Thank you, Maya

on May 30, 2014

A lot of people have expressed their appreciation for Maya Angelou since her passing, but I really can’t resist putting in my two cents.

Caged BirdI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published when I was sixteen, an extremely formative age for anyone. As a junior at a nearly-all white school in the sixties, I was more than curious about the experiences of those on the other side of town. I read The Autobiography of Malcom X about the same time. I took the one African-American History course offered at my school.

What struck me most about Dr. Angelou was her guileless ability to tell a story. Her agenda was there, without a doubt, but you never felt she was preaching. She was just telling it like it is, as we used to say. And how did she do that? By being a masterful writer. That’s how.

A review of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings from The Washington Post in April 1970 (by Ward Just) said it very well. “It is personal. It is not propaganda .… It is one woman … writing from a talent so strong as to make each part of it immediate, direct, devastating, and – oddly – beautiful.”

Most of her works were – personal, talent-ridden, immediate, direct, and beautiful. You can take any line from And Still I Rise, a 1978 poem, and it will resonate. Of course, it’s better not taken out of context, but who could deny the power of

“Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, / I am the dream and hope of the slave. / I rise / I rise / I rise.”

She knew how to make a point. And she clearly knew her place in history.

On a personal level, I want to thank her for being such a wonderful and inspiring writer. I want to write like she did. I want to make every word count and infuse each of those words with meaning and passion. But I also want to be the incredible person she was. Loving and giving and so self-assured that she enjoyed her notoriety and never shied away from it or her fans.

You can rest well, Maya, because you sure did well on this earth.

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