Tag Archives: Maya Angelou

So many books …

It’s Saturday evening and I’ve put my thesis to bed.  Before I fall into a wine and pizza induced coma, I’ll tell you I am still thinking about Emma Donohue’s book, Room.  A week later.  That says a lot.  You should read this excellent book, even with all the current criticism of first person, present tense, point-of-view books.

I am currently reading Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies which is supposed to be excellent and which I’m supposed to love.  I must finish it.  I must!  It’s for my book club.  But I’m 100+ pages in and not sure I want to finish.  I’m also re-reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, so maybe that’s why the Alvarez book does not seem interesting??

Rex is reading a 1,300 page tome called The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich which sounds much more compelling than anything I’ve been reading.

Last night I scanned the first few pages of A River Runs Through It and was totally captivated.



A writing question for Maya Angelou & William Styron

In The Paris Review Interviews, v. IV here are two very different answers to a common writerly question:  “Where/when/how do you write?”

Maya Angelou (1990):  Morning.  She rents a hotel room and goes there everyday to start writing by 6:30 a.m.  She lies across the bed and gets started.  She asks the hotel personnel not to change the sheets because, after all, she’s not ‘sleeping’ there.  She insists things are taken off the walls.  No distractions.

William Styron (1954):  Afternoon.  He sleeps in because he likes to stay up late and get drunk.  The only time left is the afternoon, with a hangover.

We really are a quirky bunch of folk.

Caged Bird

The first time I read Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings I was in my mid-20’s and taking a night class at the University of Missouri-St. Louis:  African-American Women’s Literature.  Even though I’d been an avid (even obsessive) reader since grade school, my enjoyment of books was always something that felt separate from school, personal, something I did by myself and kept to myself.  Honestly, I barely recall the books and poems we were forced to read in school, including high school.  I say “forced” for a reason.  As much as I loved books, as much as I loved reading anything (comic books, rhyming books, the lyrics of songs tucked inside album covers, Nancy Drew mysteries, the Little House series, even the backs of cereal boxes!) I never had teachers that inspired me to think about the stories I read.  When we talked about books in class, I was afraid to raise my hand – I’d given the ‘wrong’ answer to many times and felt humiliated.  Taking tests and writing papers was a chore of memorizing for the sake of memorizing, and nothing more.

Fast forward about 10 years to the Univ of MO.  I signed up for The Literature of African-American Women, which gave a reading list of books I’d heard of but never read.  We met one night a week for 3 hours. The second week of class, when we’d finished 1/2 of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the professor had us put our chairs in a circle to promote discussion.  This was when I noticed I was one of 3 white women in a class of 25 — and we all sat together, like were in some kind of pod.  Discussing this first book was tough.  Each time one of the 3 of us made a comment, we were challenged by several black classmates, telling us how we could not possibly understand the story, its themes, the characters’ perspectives, etc… because of our whiteness.  I remember wanting to cry on the way home.  But the week went by, I finished the book, and came back for week three of class.  The professor asked, once again, for us to put our chairs in the circle.  But this time made the 3 of us to change seats.  By the end of that 3 hours, merely by changing our seats, the class opened up and became more civil.  By the time the semester was over, by the time we’d read and discussed Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, we were meeting before class for dinner or coffee and getting to know each other.

This was the first literature class where the professor and my classmates made assigned “school books” powerful and important, where there could be many right answers, and where even the wrong answers had grains of truth in them that sparked the most interesting and challenging conversations.  As I go back now and reread Maya Angelou’s great book, I am not only appreciating the great storytelling and poetry of her prose, but also remembering all those smart women I met 20 years ago in that Univ of MO class, and how much we learned about these great writers, their books, and each other.


Vacation Books

Here are the paper friends that will be accompanying me to Spain:

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier — passion, suspense, and fear.  Yea!

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou — for inspiration.  Of course I’ve read it twice before, but I can’t wait to read it again.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee — it’s the 50th anniversary.  And can you really ever read this book too many times.  I love the story.  I love these characters.  Nuff said.

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton — I know absolutely nothing about this book, but it looks to be about 500 pages of mystery-solving, all winding back to a society party in 1924.  I can already feel the sea breeze blowing and the warm sand.  A beach book for sure.