I found my inspiration in Maya Angelou

3 Feb

I know I have been slightly straying from the suggested PostADay topics lately, so answering this question might help get me back on track. Who is my greatest hero of all time? I’m assuming this question doesn’t just include super-heroes, or other such fictional characters, so I’m going to go for a real-life hero, or in my case, real-life heroine Maya Angelou, who I’ve admired since I read all six of her autobiographies late last year. I had known about Angelou’s work through friends and work colleagues who had read her books, and mention of her in the media and magazines from time to time. I also had a vague knowledge of her being the one responsible for Bill Clinton’s presidential inaugaration speech, but had never bothered to find out what all the fuss was over this woman, until I came across her complete autobiographies in the library,which intrigued me enough to challenge myself to devour over 1000 pages of her writing.

Starting with I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, I began my journey from the humble beginnings of Angelou’s childhood, growing up in the poverty-stricken segregation-era deep American South with her deeply religious Grandmother Henson, Uncle Willie, and precious brother Bailey. Touching on the sensitive issues of racism, and her rape as an eight year old ( mentioned only in passing in the text), but finding her salvation through books and stories, her childhood story touched me in a way which is rare for characters in books, whether real or fictional to do. It is this book in which she finds begins to assert her independence through her life circumstances, and we begin to see glimpses of the woman she is to become.

I continued her journey through Gather Together In My Name, and Singin’ And Swingin’ And Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, where Angelou is by now a single mother, struggling to make ends meet for her only son, Clyde. She had by now moved to San Francisco, and the books charter our way through her many forays into dead-end relationships, multiple jobs and ‘career moves’, including a stint as a ‘madam’, and introduction into the world of show-business as a dancer. Her adventures travelling overseas as a performer, leaving her son behind, and her struggles and inner conflicts all paint me a picture of the strong, courageous, independent woman I wish to be in my own life, despite the struggles, circumstances and battles I face each day.

The Heart of A Woman, and All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes follow. These are two books which resonate with me the most, as this is where Angelou really begins to come into her own as a woman, despite all the many trials and tribulations she must endure during life abroad. She begins to find her voice, becomes a published writer for the first time, and becomes involved with the civil rights movement.

A Song Flung Up To Heaven is where it all comes together. It is almost as if Angelou comes full circle in this book, and I admire her tenacity to conclude her autobiography with what she chooses to share here. The book is tinged with sadness at the loss of her dear friend Malcolm X, who has supported and inspired her through her journey as a civil rights activist. She also hears of the death of Martin Luther King Jnr – another of her mentors and key player in the fight against freedom. But it is also one full of courage, hope, and inspiration.

Her life as a whole inspires me to become a better person. Often it only takes one chance encounter, like the reading of a book, to change your own perspective on who you are, who you were, and where you want to go. Through every experience she has been through – to the finding of her own identity as a young african-american woman, to the struggle for acceptance and independence, and later, making her own way in the world – to the fighting for a cause that was her life, she has shown me that we are who we are, and we can become whoever it is we wish to be, if only we have the courage to let it be so.

“Change everything you don’t like about your life. But when you come to a thing you can’t change, then change the way you think about it. You’ll see it new, and maybe a new way to change it”

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One Response to “I found my inspiration in Maya Angelou”

  1. hakea February 5, 2011 at 6:48 am #

    I’m going to add these to my wish list. Thank you.

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