Maya Angelou is a true Renaissance woman. She's been a dancer, writer, actor, poet, diplomat, screenwriter, film director, and poet. Not only is she an immensely gifted artist, but she has overcome such massive obtacles that her series of autobiographies should be given to all young black girls as an example of how to triumph over tragedy.
When Angelou's parents divorced when she was 3 years old, she was sent to Stamps, Arkansas where her grandmother raised her. While visiting her mother when she was 7, her mother's boyfriend raped her and her life seemed to be altered irrevocably by that horrid event. Maya told only her brother Bailey what happened and as you can imagine, the other relatives, including several tough uncles, soon found out. Well, one uncle took justice into his own hands and killed the child molester. Maya, feeling guilty about the man's death, stopped talking for years. It was only after a school teacher introduced her to poetry that she began speaking again -- reciting poetry. In her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou tells this part of her story.
Her second book, Gather Together in My Name, is one that I just recently read again. I'm glad to say that the book was just as precious for me this time around as it was when I read it as a child. I was especially struck by the series of bad relationships that Maya fell into so recklessly. (How I sympathize!) It's obvious that her previous brush with abusive sexuality and her mom's history of too many boyfriends and husbands gave her a distorted view of men and sex.
When Maya was preyed on by a smooth talking older man, who turned out to be a pimp, she fell for his fake adoration and he talked her into working as a prostitute. Again Maya confided in her brother Bailey who put a finger in her face and with a quiet rage told her how she was being used and duped by a hustler. Bailey demanded that she go back, pack her bags, pick up her toddler son, and return home -- immediately. Thankfully, Maya obeyed.
Maya's mother also gives her daughter some advice in Gather Together in My Name, that struck me as sound wisdom for black girls and women, even today, over 60 years later. This is what her mom told her, after one of her own beaus tried to cut her with a knife:
"People will take advantage of you if you let them. Especially Negro women. Everybody, his brother and his dog, thinks he can walk a road in a colored woman's behind. But you remember this, now. Your mother raised you. You're full-gown. Let them catch it like they find it. If you haven't been trained at home to their liking tell them to get to stepping." Here a whisper of delight crawled over her face, "Stepping. But not on you."
"You hear me?"