Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I read an excerpt of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings sometime in eight grade, after getting my classes transferred around a lot and ultimately being shoved into third period English. The class was studying just one passage from the novel rather than the whole book. I knew next to nothing about the narrative, just that the little girl didn't seem to speak much. When I heard that the whole novel had been banned multiple times for containing controversial content (intricate exploration of racism, descriptions of sexual abuse, trauma, teenage pregnancy, etc), I jumped to find it because I was thirteen and loved controversy.

It sounds like a stupid reason to try and read a novel, but I was just a kid, barely entering adolescence (and it's not like those have been my smartest years either). As a preteen, I didn't know why I liked literature. I didn't pay attention to style, or voice, or structure, or capturing the complexity of an individual through the written page. And those years were filled with so much stupid, insipid thoughts about my life, that I can't even remember when or how I found Maya Angelou's first autobiography. It must have been at the library because I don't have the book here anymore. I know I spoke with my dad about it back then, as I spoke with him about it again, by coincidence, just a few days ago. And I know I loved her writing, even if I couldn't tell you why.

Sometimes it's hard to see the little things that influenced me. And sometimes I forget to be thankful to the people who impacted my thoughts and my writing (so, practically, my whole self) when I was an erratically annoying but painfully human thirteen year old. It might not have been obvious then, but I know her writing helped me and a thousand others grow; great authors have that effect on people.

RIP  Maya Angelou. And thank you for making us listen.

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"Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance over the last century... The scientists make a finding. It inspires science fiction writers to write about it, and a host of young people read the science fiction and are excited, and inspired to become scientists...which they do, which then feeds again into another generation of science fiction and science..."
- Carl Sagan, in his message to future explorers of Mars.