Poetry Friday: Maya Angelou
I'm writing this post from the Knoxville Convention Center, waiting for Social Slam to start. Spring has definitely arrived here in Knoxville: magnolias are blooming, despite the early morning chill. It's already looking to be a great day of networking and learning, but that's not the purpose of this post.
Yesterday was Maya Angelou's birthday. The acclaimed poet and autobiographer turned 85.
She's had a rich and varied career: singer, dancer, actress, composer, director (the first female black director in Hollywood), prostitute, but she's most recognized and celebrated for her contributions as an essayist, poet and civil rights activist. Over the course of her career spanning more than fifty years, she has published six autobiographies, five books of essays, several books of poetry and holds over thirty honorary doctoral degrees. Since 1982, she has taught at Wake Forest University where she holds the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies.
Beginning with her most famous work I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings (1969), Angelou has followed the same writing ritual for years: she would wake early and check into a hotel where the staff was then instructed to removed any photographs from the walls. She writes exclusively on legal pads -- a bottle of sherry, a deck of cards, Roget's Thesaurus, and the Bible her only companions. She will produce an average of ten to twelve pages of written material per day, editing it down to three or four pages later that evening. This laborious writing process documented in Carol Sarler's Conversations with Maya Angelou.
In one of I Know Why the Caged Birds Sings' most controversial and emotional scenes, Angelou describes her rape at the hand of her mother's boyfriend. She was seven. Following the incident (and the subsequent murder of the man by her uncles), Angelou became mute for a period of five years, and escaped into literature, reading the works of Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe. The poet was born.
Maya Angelou, “Caged Bird” from Shaker, Why Don't You Sing? Copyright © 1983 by Maya Angelou. Used by permission of Random House, Inc.