1) Angelou’s works have been criticized as works of “uplift” and not genuine art. What are your thoughts around this?
Like all types of art, there are many genres within a particular art. I caution against the idea of calling something “genuine” art. When I look at my early poems they may not have been my best work but they came from a real and passionate place. To the core, when we start to qualify what we think is genuine and isn’t, that is classist. If Maya Angelou’s work was accessible then are we not calling it “genuine”. Could she have written her work so that it was available to all people? My personal love for Angelou is that she was accessible and available to me at a time when I had a young poetic voice and was looking to attach to someone’s voice I could relate to. I credit Maya Angelou for being a catalyst for my personal art. I am not a fan of Tyler Perry but there are people who really relate to his work. I could say he isn’t genuine but I think that is problematic, it’s best to say that his current and past art does not appeal to me.
2.) There are a lot of strong women narrated in Angelou’s works. Which one resonates with you most and why?
In her book, “Letter to My Daughter” Angelou discusses her tribute to seasoned or older lovers. I am such a fan of Letter 24 because I believe she saw herself in those lovers. She discusses how her female friend married a man 11 years younger and how others judged it. I think about myself as a woman in the last year of my 30s and I realize that I never want my sexuality to go away. I want to always be able to love, hug, and make love for as long as I am physically able. Recently, I briefly dated someone who was 11 years younger than me and I didn’t find much difference at all except in some of our perceptions. I plan to be a woman who always has a lover or lovers and to have a healthy sexual life. Angelou said, “I commend lovers, I am enheartened by lovers, I am encouraged by their courage and inspired by their passion,” and to that I say, I agree!
3.) How would you characterize Angelou’s style – her language, her tone, her choice of metaphors and on?
Angelou’s language is accessible, available and purposeful. Her tone is that of an older, wise woman who does not waste her words. She is calculated in her language. The literary elements she uses, again, make her poetry something you can teach to young writers as you teach them how to identify simile, metaphor, alliteration and tone. I believe that Angelou is like a primer for poetry and that is a compliment to me. If you have ever seen kindergarten teachers, you would know how important their work is. They go from taking little people with no real reading skills (at least in the past) to people being able to complete their names in print and read simple sentences. Angelou’s work is a fire starter, it is an appetizer for young readers and then for seasoned readers it becomes the wisdom of your grandmothers with a poetic twist and clarity.
4.) Share the influence Angelou has had on American literature.
Angelou is definitely a part of the canon of contemporary American poetry. She has been widely anthologized and her works live in many places. Even people who do not consider themselves lovers of poetry can probably quote you a few lines from “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise”. Like I implied earlier, Angleou’s voice is undeniably the voice of an African American woman from the South, she is clearly American, clearly of the many decades in which she wrote. She was touched by the traditional forms perfected by Dunbar, the intelligence of the Harlem Renaissance, the fervor of the Black Arts Movement, and the metaphoric oneness of contemporary poetry. Regardless of our personal feelings around how “deep” or “smart” her work was, she lived her life as a successful poet and that is something I know I aspire to do as well. One time someone asked me, “They pay you to read and write poems?” and my response was, “We all value different things. There is no way I would have paid for the outfit you are wearing but you saw fit to do so…”
Natasha Ria El-Scari is a writer, Cave Canem fellow, and educator for over a decade. Her poetry, academic papers, and personal essays have been published in anthologies, literary and online journals. She has opened for and introduced greats like Angela Davis, Marsha Ambroius, Bilal and Saul Williams. She has been also featured at a host of universities and venues nationwide. Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Natasha has a BA from Jackson State University and a MA from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Natasha’s Black Feminist approach is reflected in her writing, poetry and performance pieces. Natasha brings the fire! She is a divorced mother of two awesome children. Once asked in an interview what makes her unique she replied, “…most people lie to themselves, but I like to reveal myself.” For details and booking: www.natasharia.com