Having been one of those engineering types in college, I merely had to take 2 English courses before I got on with the rest of my engineering studies. When I look back on that, while I was glad, in some ways, to not have to be bogged down with literature courses or creative writing courses, I feel like there is an awful lot that I missed along the way.
English classes in high school feel far off to me now for more than the obvious reason that they were more than 20 years ago. For whatever reason, I don’t remember a whole lot of what we studied, although I do remember some of the books. While there were a number of classics that we read like The Great Gatsby, Catcher In the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, and others, I feel like some other important works and authors of both American and English literature were passed over.
One of those important authors who I felt was passed over died yesterday. Maya Angelou, the African American poet and writer whose work spanned and influenced multiple generations, died in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Although I knew of Angelou by name and even by the names of some of her works, I had never delved into any of those works. I was preoccupied with other things, although I wouldn’t necessarily say that those other things were more important. The beauty of the written word is that it can be enjoyed, cherished, and influential even posthumously. That’s what Angelou’s words will have to be for me.
What strikes me about Angelou is her commitment to words and her commitment to live them out. As unfamiliar as I am with her writing, it doesn’t take a scholar to understand that Angelou was not simply a poet and writer who wrote words to earn a living or to be an influence, she wrote words because it was who she was and how she expressed herself. She was able to capture in story the feelings that many others had experienced before and since her. That is the power of words, to articulate emotions in literary form that have seemed elusive to those who have experienced them.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” has risen to the top of my reading list. I expect that when I read it that I will not be disappointed. I expect that the power of her words will strike me in much the same way that those words have struck thousands before me. I expect that the hype of this author and poet will live up to the expectation that it created.
Thank you, Ms. Angelou, for your courageous words. I look forward to knowing you more through what you’ve written. I look forward to learning more about myself and the world because of what you have left behind.