This is a book that I have always wanted to read, having read some of Maya Angelou’s poems as well as seeing her words quoted extensively on Facebook. I didn’t know the specifics of her life, only that she was an esteemed writer and activist and perceived as a woman of great wisdom and sense.
Reading the memoirs of her early life does perhaps not give you detailed information of her activism but it does show how the seeds are sown. Growing up with her grandmother “Momma” in the South is presented as both terrifying and comforting, the terror provided by the racism, ever prevalent and the comfort from the presence of her family, especially Momma and Maya’s brother, Bailey. There are incidents described here that make me wonder what world it is that we live in, such as, where men have to hide in vegetable boxes to ensure that they don’t get murdered before the end of the night for a crime that someone else committed, just because of the colour of their skin.
Angelou is an entertaining narrator and the way that she describes her life is rippled with humour and intelligence. Despite the fact that she was sent away to live with her grandmother, there is no rancour towards her parents. In fact, she relates most things with a detachment, an analysis and is very good at conveying the sometimes strange ways that children interpret what is happening to them. Like all great memoir writers, it feels true; a representation of their life as they remember it, warts and all.
There is a lot of racism presented in this book and none of it is really easy to read about, as you would expect. Angelou’s narrative is a picture of what she knew as a child growing up and records experiences with her family as well as society as a whole. What you do get from it is an idea of how she has become strengthened by the life she has led and an acceptance that she wouldn’t have become the person she was unless she had come through all that was thrown at her. There is a great quote at the end of chapter 34 which has great power and sent chills down my spine when I read it and which needs to be read in order to fully understand this formidable woman.
Definitely worth reading.