Saturday, March 1, 2014

Maya Angelou: Why She's My Homegirl

Every now and then I go through a phase where I always want a book in my hands.  A lot of times this happens when I don't have cable or I'm sick of watching Law & Order marathons.  But at other times it's because I want to escape.  Those authors that can take you another world or make you forget your present situation are the best.
Everyone knows her I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and it's details on her being raped and how she went silent in speech for awhile.  But Maya Angelou's Gather Together in My Name took me to another place.  This book is the second in the series of Angelou’s autobiography.  What impressed me the most was her openness.  We get a front row seat to her tales of prostitution and running a whore house.  We also get an inside look to her failed relationships: one being with a married man and another being with a married pimp.  There were times when I would reread paragraphs and have to remind myself that I was reading an autobiography because these stories were something you saw in a 70's blaxploitation film. However, this was not a movie, this was a black woman's life.

Speaking of being a black woman, that is a story within itself.  Facing problems that women still face today, she also had to deal with Old South attitudes and being seen as less than her white counterpart.  Angelou was living in a world completely unknown to my generation.  A world that immediately saw you as less than human just because of the color of your skin.  I can count on one hand how many times I have encountered racism but in Angelou's world it was as common as blue skies.  Can you imagine coming of age in a world that hates you and you don't know why?  Every black person that made it out of that era with their sanity deserves a medal.  And Ms. Angelou deserves two medals because she has her sanity and a talent with words.

Another reason I enjoyed this book so much is because I see my favorite author's flaws and imperfections.  When we see accomplished public figures, we assume that have always had it figured out.  We imagine that every trial they have faced they passed it with flying colors.  It's nice to see that they are just as human as we are.  They have made stupid mistakes.  They have broken laws.  They have fell for the wrong guys.  They have had broken hearts.  After reading Gather Together in My Name Maya Angelou was no longer just a great writer but she was my homegirl.

Her stories remind me of stories in the Bible.  Yea we get the good stuff but we also get the bad.  The reason I have a connection with Moses is not just because he stood up to Pharaoh and led the Israelites out of Egypt but he also had a speech impediment and lost his cool when the Isrealites were getting on his nerves.  I like Peter because he was follower of Jesus but he also had a problem with being pretentious.  Maya was a brave young single mother but she also could be a little haughty and irrational. Knowing someone's best attributes as well as their Achilles heel just makes them more than a well known figure, it makes them real.

 I have gone through things I would like to forget, much less write about them for millions to read.   How Angelou mustered up the courage to write about these events in her life is beyond me.  I'm glad that she found the courage though.  It makes me feel that it's not only possible to survive some of my bad decisions but I won't live the rest of my life defined by those bad decisions.

Yasssss Ms. Angelou, call me when you ready for girl talk.
Maya Angelou, you're my homegirl and I look forward to the day we sit down to have drinks and have a good cackle.

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