The first grown-up book my mother introduced me to was “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. I was 14 at the time; a wide-eyed and eager freshman who was embarking on her first high school book report odyssey. I was assigned to read an autobiography and write about it.
The year was 1973. I gloated at the fact that I didn't have to go to the public library or downtown bookstore. I could simply sashay across the hall to Mom's bedroom. “Hmmm, what book should I read?” I wondered out loud as I searched my mom’s bedroom collection. My mother leaped to her feet from her bed and stood gazing eagerly at her vast library that took up an entire wall. She scoured the rows with intensity until a verbal “Aha” cut the air. Mom’s nimble fingers pried open the worn out paperback between Portnoy’s Complaint and e.e. cummings. She was a lover of reading and writing – especially poetry. Sometimes she’d read two books at a time. Mom always kept her own poetry journal on her nightstand. Today, that journal graces my bedroom bookshelf.
She proudly handed her selection to me. “Got the PERFECT book for your report,” she said with uncanny "chipperness". I was amused by her delight which made me curious to what would put my mom, an otherwise dry wit, in such girly glee. I turned the book around. There was a black and white photo of Maya Angelou. Her piercing eyes were far apart but so close to seeing through me. She oozed Nubian regality. Ms. Angelou reminded me of my mama.
I snuffed an inaudible thank you, as snotty 14 year old girls do to their moms, clearly not letting her see my appreciation of her choice. I walked out of her bedroom into mine, snuggled up under my quilt and proceeded to read. My eyes did not leave its pages for most of the night. It was that riveting.
I suppose looking back, my mom bestowing her coveted “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was a Rite of Passage. My Mom gifted me a book that touched on growing up a black woman in America. It was a testament to my mother’s similar upbringing, and an affirmation for me of how blessed I was because of their struggles.
I finished the book in 48 hours. I was absorbed by Ms. Angelou's beautifully poetic and poignant prose; her heart-wrenching insight and stark honesty. Thus began my deep and abiding love and appreciation for Ms. Angelou’s work. Thanks to my mother.
After my mom’s death 12 years later, her spirit would intertwine with Ms. Angelou’s. I could not listen to Maya speak or read her poetry without thinking of my mother. So it came as a particular blow to my heart to learn of Ms. Angelou’s passing.
Mama and Maya: Beautiful birds caged in their own circumstances who managed to break free and touch lives.
Their poetic souls will be forever in flight.
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.