Literature is an author’s way of expressing their inner feelings. These particular sentiments that they portray in their work usually derive from their childhood and add up over the years. Through writing, authors are essentially expressing themselves with words. They write whatever they believe in and eventually publish it, hoping that the audience will be intrigued by their thoughts.
Maya Angelou was born on April 4th, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. She went through her first significant journey when her parents got divorced at the young age of 3. After her parents’ divorce, Angelou and her brother set off on a long journey to Stamps, Arkansas where their grandmother raised them. Both Angelou’s grandmother-who she called Momma-and her Uncle Willie offered both her and her brother a tremendous amount of love. However, that strong love was not able to protect them from the hardships of the segregated South and Angelou soon found herself being treated differently at school, simply for the color of her skin.
Unfortunately, the care of “Momma” and “Uncle Willie” also was not enough to keep Angelou and her brother from wondering about their parents. Angelou and Bailey had been led to believe that both of their parents were dead until they received gifts from them one Christmas. A year after receiving those gifts, Father Bailey arrived in Stamps and took Angelou and her brother to their mother’s house back in St. Louis. They eventually moved in with their mother and their mother’s boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. Mr. Freeman was usually apathetic when it came to Angelou and Bailey, but one morning, while their mother was out for an early errand run, he forced Angelou to touch his genitals, threatening to kill Bailey if she did not comply. Then, after four months had gone by, Freeman raped Angelou and told her that if she screamed, he would kill her-and if she told anyone, he would kill Bailey. Not being able to deny the soiled panties that she had hidden, Angelou told Bailey and Freeman was arrested and sentenced to one year and one day. However, after an unfortunate turn of events, he was released the same afternoon. Freeman was later found kicked to death. So afraid that her words had the potential to kill, Angelou did not talk to anybody but her brother for the 5 years that followed.
Then, throughout the rest of her life, Angelou underwent many other experiences-those of which directly contributed to her work. Somebody who played a large role in exposing Angelou to the world of literature was her teacher and family friend, Mrs. Bertha Flowers. Flowers introduced her to widely renowned authors such as Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Douglas Johnson, and James Weldon Johnson. Flowers also exposed her to black female artists such as Frances Harper, Anne Spencer, and Jessie Fauset.
Also, around the time that Angelou was growing up, racism was worse than ever. White males were almost always chosen in the workplace, and therefore, black men often struggled to find jobs. However, even when they would find decent work positions, blacks were paid significantly less than their white peers. Since it was so difficult to find a job and because they were paid so unfairly, they were usually found living in the poorest of conditions, unable to provide much for their families. But despite all the tragedy that she experienced, as Angelou got older, she also got to witness the impact of the civil rights movement and the growth of feminism, both of which she grew to be a part of and included in her writing.
Angelou’s inclusion of personal narrative in her poetry is easily comparable to slave and work songs, implying that they must have had a heavy influence on her. Besides that, she also incorporates the self-confidence that she developed as an adolescent into some of her writing. A perfect example of both of these is her poem, Phenomenal Woman, in which she states “I walk into a room just as cool as you please, and to a man, the fellows stand, or fall down to their knees. Then they swarm around me, a hive of honey bees”. In this piece Angelou showcases her views on how she intrigues those around her, not by being loud and attention-seeking or even by her stereotypical feminine traits, but simply by being confident in herself.
Angelou is still to this day referred to as a postmodernist writer. Postmodernism was an artistic movement of skepticism and controversy that swept through the late 20th century. In her debut book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou touched upon the topics of sexism, racism, and her struggles with rape, which were still quite uncomfortable to talk about then. She was never afraid to incorporate her life experiences into her writing, no matter how taboo the topic might have been. She also did not seem to be very rational in some of her pieces, not backing up her statements with much reason, which is a perfect example of how postmodernist ideas are present in her work.
Angelou was a feminist icon at a time when not only were women of color forced into submission, but simply women as a whole. She was never afraid to stand apart from the crowd and never hesitated to incorporate taboo topics into her work. With the broad list of occupations that she took up throughout her lifetime-such as feminist, civil rights activist, author, and poet-there truly is no doubt that Maya Angelou truly was a unique soul and a blessing to the world that raised her.