This week I’ve been getting ready for our boxed lunch book club that we do once a month at church. This month’s book is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. For several days I’ve been rereading my favorite parts of this book and am amazed anew at the way Maya Angelou is able to make words dance. To begin with, she is an absolute genius with titles. All of her books have titles that make me sigh and tantalize me with wonder about what could be behind such a perfectly crafted phrase. I can hardly choose a favorite among I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Gather Together in My Name, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie and All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes.
Maya Angelou started writing Caged Bird as a sort of grief therapy the year that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. He was killed on her birthday, and she sent flowers to Coretta Scott King in lieu of celebrating her birthday every year following his death. I am so thankful that for her, hope and courage must have prevailed in her heart after that sad day in Memphis. Otherwise she would not have been able to put down her story for all who are willing to be blessed by the telling of her first 16 years. Caged Bird was the first of six autobiographies Angelou eventually wrote, which I have recently discovered have been published together in one lovely volume. I think it is perhaps my duty as an Arkansan to own this book. I will rush right out and get it, just like I did my junior year in college to find her poems.
I will always remember encountering Angelou for the first time in a class taught by Dr. Martha Washington at the University of Central Arkansas. She was a friend of Maya Angelou’s and I remember her lamenting to us how rarely she was able to see her friend, because of how painful it was for her to return to the state that represented so much pain, hardship and racial hatred. Angelou’s poem My Arkansas reveals a side of my home state that I am so ashamed to see, one that many of us choose not to notice.
Dr. Washington read aloud to us several of Maya Angelou’s poems, but it was when she read Our Grandmothers that I decided I had to have a book of Maya Angelou’s poetry of my very own. Reading her poems again this week has made me laugh, cry, sigh and smile. Actually, I spent a lot of money on books that semester (and every semester since), as Dr. Washington opened a whole new realm of authors to me through her mesmerizing storytelling. I will always be grateful for the doors to my heart that she opened, both directly and indirectly as one book led to another, starting a trail of reading that continues to this day.
My syllabus from Dr. Washington’s class as I best remember it:
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Cane by Jean Toomer
Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary African-American Fiction by Terry McMillan
The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
The Women and the Men by Nikki Giovanni
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Anyone is welcome to come to Boxed Lunch Book Club at Fellowship North. January 29, 2009 from 12-1. Bring a lunch and an open heart! Next month’s book is The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima.