Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live many lives in a lifetime, to don the garb of an author, a poet, a dancer, an actress, a singer, a journalist and an activist? This seemingly unattainable proposition had been secured by Maya Angelou, a woman of substance who knew the potential her expression harboured, and how she could radicalise the world by the vehicle of her voice. It is only befitting then, for a person as erudite as her, to write a series of six autobiographies, which swept over the hearts and minds of its readers through the evocative responses it demanded.
A child of divorce, Angelou was born in 1928, in St Louis, Missouri. She was raped by her mother’s eccentric boyfriend, at the tender age of seven. The man was subsequently hunted down and murdered by Angelou’s uncles. However, the killing of this man caused Angelou to withdraw from her surroundings, for the murder of the man weighed heavy on her conscience. This was when she realized the latent powers embedded in her voice, and thus immersed herself in the literary works of great dignitaries to expand the horizon of her knowledge. The voice that had caused her the abominable guilt trips, finally found a purpose. Maya Angelou’s widely acclaimed autobiography, ‘ I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ is a poignant reverie, tracing her struggles as a woman of colour, set against the backdrop of patriarchy, racism and misogyny. The reader can trace her growth from being a girl laden with insecurities to being the confident woman the world cherished, the first black street-car conductor in San Francisco. The book is embellished with a certain disarming candour, which compels the reader to join Angelou in her struggles, and be a comrade in sharing her determination to transcend the social constructs of inequality. By so eloquently voicing her vulnerabilities, she removed the stigma of sharing vulnerable aspect of human life, for her readers. The most astounding part about her writing is that she did not shy away from anything under the sun. She had the rare ability to see all aspects of an issue and present them in a wholesome manner. So even though she advocated the right to abortion so fiercely in her book, she chose to raise her son Guy, in spite of being an unwed mother at the age of seventeen. Angelou, while deliberating over the issues of racism that plagued her past so deliriously, sought a ray of hope, a beacon of positivity which could neutralize the trauma she had undergone. There is an unprecedented self-acceptance of the past in her works, where Maya Angelou, being the phenomenal woman that she was, identifies with both the beauty and the ugliness of her struggles.