When I saw a documentary made by the BBC I was filled with admiration for Maya Angelou and immediately wanted to read more about this remarkable Black woman. I started with her autobiography 'I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings' As it happened, I had the book already on my shelves having picked it up in Oxfam, along with two others, some years ago. What a treat was in store.
From the start her resilience impressed me, her originality, her style and most of all her big heart and her determination to succeed in a world where to be Black was to be already judged and found wanting. Nothing fazed her despite the hardship of being abandoned by her separated parents at the age of three and sent to Arkansas by train with her four year old brother, Bailey, to live with her paternal grandmother. She remembered their name tags attached to their wrists and the train tickets pinned to the inside pocket of her brother's jacket.
Touching are her memories of that poverty stricken childhood and her fast held belief that inside she was really a blonde, pink-cheeked little white girl and it was only a matter of time before this would be revealed to all about her. She was an avid reader with an inquiring mind and high grades soon passing out the other school children. She grew to love poetry and to write it. She was fortunate to have a stalwart, principled grandmother who brought Bailey and herself up strictly but with an abiding love and understanding and taught them how to hold up their heads and be proud of who they were. There was a school teacher in the town of Stamps who saw Maya's potential and befriended her, particularly in the traumatic years following her rape at the age of seven by her mother's lover when brought home to live in St. Louis with her mother.
After this terrible experience Maya didn't speak for five years. Her kindly insightful teacher persuaded her to believe that until she spoke poetry aloud and let it sound on her tongue and pass her lips she would not move forward in her life. Fortunately, Maya triumphed over the poverty and prejudice of her existence and in her lifetime wrote two collections of prose and many books of poetry most evocative is entitled 'And Still I Rise.'. which summed up her valiant courageous spirit. Famous her historic poem 'On The Pulse Of Morning' written for President Clinton's inauguration. She had a life-time appointment as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University of North Carolina. Not a woman who will ever by forgotten nor her wonderful prose and poetry.