Saturday, 17 May 2014

Phenomenal Woman

In the mid-1990s I had the pleasure of attending an evening with Dr Maya Angelou at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. In her sing-songy way, Maya read her beautiful poetry and I left feeling enlightened, inspired and empowered. 

Over the years I have read many of her poems and her autobiographical books including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas (1976) The Heart of a Woman (1981) and Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now (1993).  

Even now, as I read her words, I hear her voice from that long ago evening in Toronto. 

She has had a truly remarkable life and her autobiographies have a feel of sitting down to tea with a dear old friend.

It had been many years since I last read Maya Angelou so I approached Letter to My Daughter (2009) with a sense of nostalgia.  This book is a collection of essays in which she imparts eight decades of wisdom to “the daughter she never had.” 

Over 28 mini essays Angelou shares life lessons on philanthropy, honesty, childbirth, vulgarity, family and more. These tales often end with a lesson like “I learned that a friend may be waiting behind a stranger’s face” or  “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

Angelou had an extraordinary life and she has many pearls of wisdom to pass on. There were parts of this book where I felt delight by her writing, but others where I felt the gap between our life experiences and beliefs. 

While this is a short, easy to read book, there could have been more coherence in what was included so it was more like a true letter to her universal daughter and less like a disjointed collection of random scraps of writing. I would encourage those new to Angelou to start with some of her other writings as Letter to My Daughter is not her best.