Songs of Herself

From The Washington Post:

Maya Maya Angelou published her blockbuster memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in 1969, when she was in her early 40s and I was a 17-year-old white Southerner trying my luck in New York City. Catching her on late night television, I fell utterly under her spell. I loved her delighted laugh, the studied cadences of her rich voice, her graciousness — especially to white interviewers who couldn’t get enough of her stories about growing up black in the Jim Crow South. In that time before everybody and his uncle wrote memoirs, I felt I must read her story. She was willing to speak plainly about race and to describe how she was raped as an 8-year-old. If that violation left her mute for several years, she vindicated her silence by trying her luck as a performer and then a writer, and it appeared she could hold rapt any audience she chose to entertain.

Nearly 40 years, six (six!) autobiographies, a dozen collections of poetry, a sprinkling of essays, children’s books and a cookbook later, Angelou — who turned 80 this spring — has written another book, this one an odd little hodgepodge of sound advice, vivid memory and strong opinion. Despite the slimness of the volume and the randomness of its offerings, I still find myself charmed by her plain talk.

I am, after all, her intended audience. Though she is the mother of one son, to whom she gave birth when she was just 16, Angelou has dedicated these musings to her “thousands of daughters . . . Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asian, Spanish-speaking, Native American and Aleut . . . pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered.”

More here.