Call me dumb! But The Maya Angelou I knew in the 90s was more like a particularly well-spoken television personality. It was more like I had an attachment to the comfort I felt when I heard her voice. I vaguely remember excerpts of her breakout autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. For some truly great artists TV’s penchant for 10-second sound bites and 30-second clips has the odd effect of turning down the bling on their otherwise stellar and legendary career. I knew she was really good friends with Oprah Winfrey and that young black girls especially loved her because of those cutesy self-esteem poems like Still I Rise and Phenomenal Woman. I feel like I’ve heard those poems one time too many at a graduation ceremony somewhere or at a Sunday School children’s recital.
But reading her work—particularly her poetry collections—whatever I thought about Maya Angelou changed. I quickly found out Maya is absolutely a wordsmith of the highest order. I will not say everything she wrote was golden. I will say as a writer she’s worthy of far more street cred than I previously thought. Anyone who believes her literary legacy can be reduced to the stylized limerick of a positive-thinking performance coach either simply has not truly read her work or they have completely misunderstood how precisely and purposefully she deployed her gift.
First Maya Angelou was an activist to the bone. Remember this is the woman both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X personally charged with significant leadership roles in their respective organizations at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
A writer’s best defense is their own words. As soon as I started reading her very first book of poems, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie I kind of had to let go of the deified Sunday morning image I had stuck in my head. She always reminded me of one of the church mothers on the usher board. In her poem A Zorro Man she writes: Continue reading Gifts for Mother Maya by Brad Walrond (Part I)