“The reason that students at Yale and places like it can “afford” to major in history is that they have the luxury of seeing college as a chance to learn about the world beyond the confines of their home towns, and to try to understand where they might fit in. That’s what history does best. It locates us and helps us understand how we got here and why things are the way they are. “History instills a sense of citizenship, and reminds you of questions to ask, especially about evidence,” Willis told me. In a follow-up e-mail after our conversation, Mikhail wrote, “A study of the past shows us that the only way to understand the present is to embrace the messiness of politics, culture, and economics. There are never easy answers to pressing questions about the world and public life.” Bruce Springsteen famously developed a profound political consciousness after happening upon Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager’s “A Pocket History of the United States,” first published in 1942. In his recent Broadway show, Springsteen explained, “I wanted to know the whole American story. . . . I felt like I needed to understand as much of it as I could in order to understand myself.”
“The Queen of Soul” (After Charles White’s “Folksinger”), by Kadir Nelson
Aretha Franklin, a pillar of postwar American music, passed away Thursday morning, at seventy-six. A few hours later, the artist Kadir Nelson sent a sketch to The New Yorker, which drew inspiration from “Folksinger,” a 1957 ink drawing by Charles White. “I wanted to draw her in a choir,” he said. “She was a preacher’s daughter, and so much of what she gave us came from the church, even after she moved beyond gospel.” Nelson, of course, wasn’t the only one who paid tribute, and you can read some of The New Yorker’s writing on Franklin, old and new, below.
David Remnick on Franklin’s legacy:
“Prayer, love, desire, joy, despair, rapture, feminism, Black Power—it is hard to think of a performer who provided a deeper, more profound reflection of her times. What’s more, her gift was incomparable. Smokey Robinson, her friend and neighbor in Detroit, once said, ‘Aretha came out of this world, but she also came out of another, far-off magical world none of us really understood. . . . She came from a distant musical planet where children are born with their gifts fully formed.’ ”
Amanda Petrusich on Franklin’s live performances:
“When Aretha sings ‘Amazing Grace’ in that church, it’s suddenly not a song anymore, or not really—the melody, the lyrics, they’re rendered mostly meaningless. A few bits of organ, some piano. Who cares? Congregants yelling ‘Sing it!’ None of it matters. I’m not being melodramatic—we are listening to the wildest embodiment of a divine signal. She receives it and she broadcasts it. ‘Singing’ can’t possibly be the right word for this sort of channelling.”
Emily Lordi on the Queen and soul:
“This was the promise of soul: that pain granted depth, and that one was never alone but accompanied by a vibrant community that had crossed too many bridges in order to survive. Franklin was the queen not only of soul music but of soul as a concept, because her great subject was the exceeding of limits. Her willingness to extend her own vocal technique, to venture beyond herself, to strain to implausible heights, and revive songs that seemed to be over—all these strategies could look and sound like grace. She knew that we would need it.”
“Take for instance the current problem of the education of our children. By the law of the land today they should be admitted to the public schools. If and when they are admitted to these schools certain things will inevitably follow. Negro teachers will become rarer and in many cases will disappear. Negro children will be instructed in the public schools and taught under unpleasant if not discouraging circumstances. Even more largely than today they will fall out of school, cease to enter high school, and fewer and fewer will go to college. Theoretically, Negro universities will disappear. Negro history will be taught less or not at all, and as in so many cases in the past Negroes will remember their white or Indian ancestors and quite forget their Negro forebearers.”
ON BEING “WHITE” • AND OTHER LIES James Baldwin (1924-1987)
James Baldwin was the greatest expert on white consciousness in the twentieth century United States. Born in what he described as the “southern community” of Harlem, Baldwin published six novels, including his brilliant treatment of fathers, sons, and religion in Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), and Giovanni’s Room (1956), a work concentrating on white, gay characters. Baldwin’s early essays, collected in Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1961), and The Fire Next Time (1963), are works of remarkable range, lucidity, and compassion. But his scandalously underappreciated essays, generously sampled in The Price of the Ticket (1985), push Baldwin’s arguments regarding race and the meaning of America, racism, homophobia, and the “male prison,” and whiteness and the immigrant experience to unprecedented levels of insight. “On Being ‘White’ and Other Lies,” published originally in the popular African-American magazine Essence in 1984, is a dramatic reminder that “becoming American” meant learning to be white in a new way for European immigrants.
“ON BEING WHITE AND OTHER LIES” James Baldwin, Essence Magazine 1984
The crisis of leadership in the white community is remarkable—and terrifying—because there is, in fact, no white community. This may seem an enormous statement—and it is. I’m willing to be challenged. I’m also willing to attempt to spell it out. My frame of reference is, of course, America, or that portion of the North American continent that calls itself America. And this means I am speaking, essentially, of the European vision of the world—or more precisely; perhaps, the European vision of the universe. It is a vision as remarkable for what it pretends to include as for what it remorselessly diminishes, demolishes or leaves totally out of account.
There is, for example—at least, in principle—an Irish community: here, there, anywhere, or, more precisely, Belfast, Dublin and Boston. There is a German community: both sides of Berlin, Bavaria and Yorkville. There is an Italian community: Rome, Naples, the Bank of the Holy Ghost and Mulberry Street. And there is a Jewish community, stretching from Jerusalem to California to New York. There are English communities. There are French communities. There are Swiss consortiums. There are Poles: in Warsaw (where they would like us to be friends) and in Chicago (where because they are white we are enemies). There are, for that matter, Indian restaurants and Turkish baths. There is the underworld—the poor (to say nothing of those who intend to become rich) are always with us—but this does not describe a community It bears terrifying witness to what happened to everyone who got here, and paid the price of the ticket. The price was to become “white.”
No one was white before he/she came to America. It took generations, and a vast amount of coercion, before this became a white country. It is probable that it is the Jewish community or more accurately, perhaps, its remnants—that in America has paid the highest and most extraordinary price for becoming white. For the Jews came here from countries where they were not white, and they came here, in part, because they were not white; and incontestably in the eyes of the Black American (and not only in those eyes) American Jews have opted to become white, and this is how they operate. It was ironical to hear, for example, former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin declare some time ago that “the Jewish people bow only to God” while knowing that the state of Israel is sustained by a blank check from Washington.
Without further pursuing the implication of this mutual act of faith, one is nevertheless aware that the Black presence, here, can scarcely hope—at least, not yet—to halt the slaughter in South Africa. And there is a reason for that. America became white—the people who, as they claim, “settled” the country became white—because of the necessity of denying the Black presence, and justifying the Black subjugation.
No community can be based on such a principle—or, in other words, no community can be established on so genocidal a lie. White men—from Norway, for example, where they were Norwegians—became white: by slaughtering the cattle, poisoning the wells, torching the houses, massacring Native Americans, raping Black women. This moral erosion has made it quite impossible for those who think of themselves as white in this country to have any moral authority at all—privately, or publicly. The multitudinous bulk of them sit, stunned, before their TV sets, swallowing garbage that they know to be garbage, and—in a profound and unconscious effort to justify this torpor that disguises a profound and bitter panic pay a vast amount of attention to athletics: even though they know that the football player (the Son of the Republic, their sons!) is merely another aspect of the money-making scheme. They are either relieved or embittered by the presence of the Black boy on the team. I do not know if they remember how long and hard they fought to keep him off it.
I know that they do not dare have any notion of the price Black people (mothers and fathers) paid and pay. They do not want to know the meaning, or face the shame, of what they compelled—out of what they took as the necessity of being white—Joe Louis or Jackie Robinson or Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali) to pay I know that they, themselves, would not have liked to pay it. There has never been a labor movement in this country, the proof being the absence of a Black presence in the so-called father-to-son unions. There are, perhaps, some niggers in the window; but Blacks have no power in the labor unions. Just so does the white community, as a means of keeping itself white, elect, as they imagine, their political (!) representatives. No nation in the world, including England, is represented by so stunning a pantheon of the relentlessly mediocre.
I will not name names I will leave that to you. But this cowardice, this necessity of justifying a totally false identity and of justifying what must be called a genocidal history, has placed everyone now living into the hands of the most ignorant and powerful people the world has ever seen: And how did they get that way? By deciding that they were white. By opting for safety instead of life. By persuading themselves that a Black child’s life meant nothing compared with a white child’s life. By abandoning their children to 180 BLACK ON WHITE the things white men could buy By informing their children that Black women, Black men and Black children had no human integrity that those who call themselves white were bound to respect. And in this debasement and definition of Black people, they debased and defamed themselves. And have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white. Because they think they are white, they do not dare confront the ravage and the lie of their history. Because they think they are white, they cannot allow themselves to be tormented by the suspicion that all men are brothers.
Because they think they are white, they are looking for, or bombing into existence, stable populations, cheerful natives and cheap labor. Because they think they are white, they believe, as even no child believes, in the dream of safety Because they think they are white, however vociferous they may be and however multitudinous, they are as speechless as Lot’s wife— looking backward, changed into a pillar of salt. However-1 White being, absolutely, a moral choice (for there are no white people), the crisis of leadership for those of us whose identity has been forged, or branded, as Black is nothing new. We—who were not Black before we got here either, who were defined as Black by the slave trade—have paid for the crisis of leadership in the white community for a very long time, and have resoundingly, even when we face the worst about ourselves, survived, and triumphed over it. If we had not survived and triumphed, there would not be a Black American alive. And the fact that we are still here—even in suffering, darkness, danger, endlessly defined by those who do not dare define, or even confront, themselves is the key to the crisis in white leadership.
The past informs us of various kinds of people—criminals, adventurers and saints, to say nothing, of course, of popes—but it is the Black condition, and only that, which informs us concerning white people. It is a terrible paradox, but those who believed that they could control and define Black people divested themselves of the power to control and define themselves.
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The Long-Lasting Legacy of the Great MigrationWhen millions of African-Americans fled the South in search of a better life, they remade the nation in ways that are still being feltAn African-American family leaves Florida for the North during the Great Depression. (MPI/Getty Images)By Isabel WilkersonSMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE | SUBSCRIBE SEPTEMBER 20168.9K 73 2 29 14 37 13.1K 8.9K 73 29 14 2 13.1KIn 1963, the American mathematician Edward Lorenz, taking a measure of the earth’s atmosphere in a laboratory that would seem far removed from the social upheavals of the time, set forth the theory that a single “flap of a sea gull’s wings” could redirect the path of a tornado on another continent, that it could, in fact, be “enough to alter the course of the weather forever,” and that, though the theory was then new and untested, “the most recent evidence would seem to favor the sea gulls.”FROM THIS STORY The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great MigrationBUYAt that moment in American history, the country had reached a turning point in a fight for racial justice that had been building for decades. This was the year of the killing of Medgar Evers in Mississippi, of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, of Gov. George Wallace blocking black students at the schoolhouse door of the University of Alabama, the year of the March on Washington, of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” By then, millions of African-Americans had already testified with their bodies to the repression they had endured in the Jim Crow South by defecting to the North and West in what came to be known as the Great Migration. They were fleeing a world where they were restricted to the most menial of jobs, underpaid if paid at all, and frequently barred from voting. Between 1880 and 1950, an African-American was lynched more than once a week for some perceived breach of the racial hierarchy.“They left as though they were fleeing some curse,” wrote the scholar Emmett J. Scott, an observer of the early years of the migration. “They were willing to make almost any sacrifice to obtain a railroad ticket and they left with the intention of staying.”The migration began, like the flap of a sea gull’s wings, as a rivulet of black families escaping Selma, Alabama, in the winter of 1916. Their quiet departure was scarcely noticed except for a single paragraph in the Chicago Defender, to whom they confided that “the treatment doesn’t warrant staying.” The rivulet would become rapids, which grew into a flood of six million people journeying out of the South over the course of six decades. They were seeking political asylum within the borders of their own country, not unlike refugees in other parts of the world fleeing famine, war and pestilence.Until that moment and from the time of their arrival on these shores, the vast majority of African-Americans had been confined to the South, at the bottom of a feudal social order, at the mercy of slaveholders and their descendants and often-violent vigilantes. The Great Migration was the first big step that the nation’s servant class ever took without asking.“Oftentimes, just to go away is one of the most aggressive things that another person can do,” wrote John Dollard, an anthropologist studying the racial caste system of the South in the 1930s, “and if the means of expressing discontent are limited, as in this case, it is one of the few ways in which pressure can be put on.”The refugees could not know what was in store for them and for their descendants at their destinations or what effect their exodus would have on the country. But by their actions, they would reshape the social and political geography of every city they fled to. When the migration began, 90 percent of all African-Americans were living in the South. By the time it was over, in the 1970s, 47 percent of all African-Americans were living in the North and West. A rural people had become urban, and a Southern people had spread themselves all over the nation.Subscribe to Smithsonian magazine now for just $12This article is a selection from the September issue of Smithsonian magazineBUYMerely by leaving, African-Americans would get to participate in democracy and, by their presence, force the North to pay attention to the injustices in the South and the increasingly organized fight against those injustices. By leaving, they would change the course of their lives and those of their children. They would become Richard Wright the novelist instead of Richard Wright the sharecropper. They would become John Coltrane, jazz musician instead of tailor; Bill Russell, NBA pioneer instead of paper mill worker; Zora Neale Hurston, beloved folklorist instead of maidservant. The children of the Great Migration would reshape professions that, had their families not left, may never have been open to them, from sports and music to literature and art: Miles Davis, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morr
Isabel Wilkerson is a former Chicago bureau chief for The New York Times and a Pulitzer Prize winner. She is the author of the best-selling The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/long-lasting-legacy-great-migration-180960118/#cwB5cQmkm3LrcPfC.99
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Today is a special day. Wishing the giant spirit of OCTAVIA BUTLER a very happy birthday
Today, a woman of untold brilliance, insight, and vision was born, a woman whose literature changed not only my perspective, but my life.
Octavia Butler was born on this day in 1947 (to February 24, 2006), She was an celebrated American Science Fiction author, who excelled in a genre with few African-American women. She won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.
Octavia Estelle Butler was born and raised in Pasadena, California. Her father Laurice, died when she was a baby, and Butler was raised by her grandmother and her mother (Octavia M. Butler), who worked as a maid in order to support the family. She grew up in a struggling, racially mixed neighborhood. According to the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, Butler was “an introspective, only child in a strict Baptist household” and “was drawn early to science fiction magazines such as “Amazing”, “Fantasy”, “Science Fiction”, and “Galaxy” and soon began reading all the science fiction classics.
Nicknamed “Junie,” Octavia Butler was paralytically shy and a daydreamer, and was later diagnosed as being dyslexic. She began writing at the age of ten “to escape loneliness and boredom”; and when she was twelve, she began her lifelong interest in science fiction.
After earning her associate’s degree from Pasadena City College in 1968, she enrolled at California State University in Los Angeles. She eventually left CalState and took writing classes through a UCLA extension. She would later credit two writing workshops for giving her “the most valuable help I received with my writing”. She participated in The Open Door Workshop of the Screenwriters’ Guild of America, West, a program designed to mentor Latino and African American writers. Through Open Door, she met the noted science fiction writer Harlan Ellison in 1969. She also had high praise for her time in The Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop, where she first met Samuel R. Delany. She remained, throughout her career, a self-identified science fiction fan, an insider who rose from within the ranks of the field.
For some writers, science fiction serves as means to delve into fantasy. But for Butler, it largely served as a vehicle to address issues facing humanity. It was this passionate interest in the human experience that imbued her work with a certain depth and complexity. In the mid-1980s, Butler began to receive critical recognition for her work.
Butler won the Nebula Award for Best Novel, “Parable of the Talents” in 1999, the Hugo and Locus Awards for Best Novelette, “Bloodchild” in 1985 and the Hugo Award for Best Short Story for “Speech Sounds” in 1984. In 1995, Butler received a “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation, which allowed her to buy a house for her mother and herself. She has been inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.
In 1976, Butler published her first novel, “Patternmaster.” This book was the first in a series of works about a group of people with telepathic powers called Patternists. Other Patternist titles include “Mind of My Mind” in 1977 and “Clay’s Ark” in 1984.
In the late 1980s, Butler published her Xenogenesis trilogy—“Dawn” in 1987, “Adulthood Rites” in 1988 and “Imago” in 1989. This series of books explores issues of genetics and race. To insure their mutual survival, humans reproduce with aliens known as the Oankali. Butler received much praise for this trilogy. She went on to write the Parable series, which includes the novels “Parable of the Sower” in 1993, and “Parable of the Talents” in 1999.
In 1999, Butler abandoned her native California to move north to Seattle, Washington. She was a perfectionist with her work and spent several years grappling with writer’s block. Her efforts were hampered by her ill health and the medications she took. After starting and discarding numerous projects, Butler wrote her last novel “Fledgling” in 2005.
In an interview by Randall Kenan, Octavia E. Butler discusses how her life experiences as a child shaped most of her thinking. As a writer, Butler was able to use her writing as a vehicle to critique history under the lenses of feminism. In the interview, she discusses the research that had to be done in order to write her bestselling novel, “Kindred.” Most of it is based on visiting libraries as well as historic landmarks with respect to what she is investigating. Butler admits that she writes science fiction because she does not want her work to be label or used as a marketing tool. She wants the readers to be genuinely interested in her work and the story she provides, but at the same time she fears that people will not read her work because of the “science fiction” label that they have.
The nearly reclusive Octavia Butler died unexpectedly in February of 2006 at her home in Seattle after falling and sustaining a head injury. With her death, the literary world lost one of its great storytellers. She is remembered, as Gregory Hampton wrote in Callaloo, as writer of “stories that blurred the lines of distinction between reality and fantasy.” And through her work, “she revealed universal truths.”
Much has been written recently about Octavia E. Butler’s sexual orientation Many obituaries recognized her as “both a Black and Lesbian science-fiction writer” All references seem to link to an unsourced Wikipedia post. She has been described by some close friends as bisexual, as asexual, and as heterosexual. She apparently never discussed any lesbianism publicly. There is even a discussion with Octavia Butler and fellow Black sci-fi author Samuel Delaney on the MIT website where he briefly talks about being a gay man. It would seem natural that Octavia Butler might have used the opportunity to acknowledge that she was a lesbian, but she did not mention it in that discussion. Dr. Ron Buckmire, a math professor at Occidental College, very near where Miss Butler lived until her move to Seattle, writes in his blog his reflections on her passing. He says that he knew her casually and does remark that she was a lesbian. Whatever her orientation, she was a gifted and inspiring writer whose work impacted and inspired the lives of many.
The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship was established in Butler’s memory in 2006 by the Carl Brandon Society. Its goal is to provide an annual scholarship to enable writers of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops where Butler got her start. The first scholarships were awarded in 2007.
In April 2014, it was announced that two new stories by Octavia E Butler had been discovered among her papers at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and that the stories are set for release this summer.
We remember Octavia E. Butler on this day in celebration of the 67th anniversary of her birth, and in appreciation for her brilliant writing, her unique and pioneering spirit, and for her many contributions to our community.
Copyright © MMXIV Stephen A. Maglott. I’m not fond of lawyers, but I have one anyway. She insist that I inform you that permission to share this biography or any portion thereof, on an online service or blog other than Facebook, must be granted in writing by yours truly (Stephen Maglott). Please feel free however, to share this post with others on Facebook.
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The death of Dr. Maya Angelou provided us the opportunity to once again delight in her memoirs, which chronicle the eclectic, bohemian first half of her life. Yet, we know from her writings that such praise was often withheld as she pursued her dreams of being a dancer and poet while raising a young child as a single mother. How many times must she have been urged to settle down and give up her artistic and cultural pursuits, which time and time again left her broke and broken? While we now refer to Angelou as a renaissance woman, until she published I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings in her 40s, her life resembled what is referred to in ghetto parlance as a hot mess.
This messiness is what we all fear. It is why rather than pursue our dreams, we settle into the lives expected of us. Cubicles and cul-de-sacs become the things of our imagination. Only happiness and satisfaction studies suggest they are not enough. A GALLUP Poll last year found that only 30 percent of U.S. workers are passionate about their work. The majority (52 percent) are unhappy with their jobs and put little energy into their work while another 18 percent actually hate their jobs and actively work to undermine coworkers. We sacrifice our dreams only to find ourselves restless, bored and frustrated in midlife having realized what Angelou told us all along; “making a living is not the same thing as making a life.” Worse still, we recognize the irony in discovering after layoffs, financial setbacks and divorce that the “mess” is unavoidable.
These unmet expectations and realization that youthful aspirations have been abandoned are suspected as the cause of feelings of discouragement and depression among those in midlife. The British think tank NatCen Social Research found that studies show that people between 35 and 55 suffer a dip in well-being. A separate study that analyzed data from “nationally representative” surveys in Australia, Britain and Germany found that the bell curve in well-being dips to its lowest point around the ages of 40 to 42.
Even those who choose to pursue unconventional dreams don’t escape these feelings, especially if such pursuits have come at the expense of nearly everything else. I abandoned life as a lawyer in favor of one as a writer, activist and entrepreneur. Now having entered midlife without any of our culture’s success markers — husband, children, two-car garage — I have had to answer, both to myself and to others, the question of whether the path I’ve chosen was a wise one. Reflecting on Angelou’s has helped me find the answers.
1. Be uniquely you.
Angelou described herself in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as “a too-big Negro girl, with nappy black hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number-two pencil.” She knew such a girl would’ve perished trying to conform to mainstream conventions. “If you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” Instead of fretting over not being a swan, Angelou reinvented herself as a rare bird. As many biographers have noted, she won’t be remembered for her poems or plays, but for her memoirs and for being Maya Angelou. The key to discerning one’s authenticity is quite simple: “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”
2. When it comes to failure, be courageous.
Angelou was a marvelous failure. Her most noteworthy stage performance, playing the seamstress in the two-woman play Mary Todd Lincoln, earned her a Tony nomination but closed on opening night. The rolling stone never stuck to one thing for long. She moved from coast to coast, continent to continent, sometimes making poor childcare decisions, one of which resulted in her son’s brief abduction. She didn’t have a stable home or steady job until she was in her 50s, an age at which many are preparing for retirement. She divorced several times but would would never confirm the exact number, “for fear of sounding frivolous.” Aware of all her failings, Angelou was brave enough to look at herself. “We have to confront ourselves. Do we like what we see in the mirror? And, according to our light, according to our understanding, according to our courage, we will have to say yea or nay — and rise!”
3. Know who your friends are.
One would be hard-pressed to identify a significant black figure Angelou didn’t know. She danced with Amiri Baraka. Billie Holiday visited her home and explained the meaning of Strange Fruit to her young son. While a calypso dancer she worked with Alvin Ailey. James Baldwin gave her the introductions that would lead to the publication of her first memoir. These were people she deeply cared for, but in anEssence interview, she had this to say of friendship.
There’s a marked difference between acquaintances and friends. Most people really don’t become friends. They become deep and serious acquaintances. But in a friendship you get to know the spirit of another person, and your values coincide. Friends may disagree, but not about serious matters. A friend will stand for you when you are no longer able… Years ago one of the slick White women’s magazines asked if they could photograph me with my closest friends for an issue they were doing on friends. The editor wanted me to bring Oprah. I have 30 years on Oprah. She calls me her friend, her mother, all that. I am very close to her in a motherly way. So I told [the magazine], ‘I have three dear friends — Dolly McPherson, Jessica ‘Decca’ Mitford and M.J. Hewitt — they are sisters to me.’
4. Believe you can do anything.
For Angelou, inexperience was never a reason not to take on an interesting job. Angelou’s only criterion was seemingly that a new occupation share little to no similarities with her previous one. At sixteen, she became San Francisco’s first African-American streetcar conductor and later passed herself off as an experienced Creole chef. She held jobs dancing in a nightclub, stripping paint from old cars, and singing Calypso. She knew nothing about being a journalist when she accepted a position as an editor for The Arab Observer,” an English-language magazine. She said of the experience,
I stayed at the Arab Observer for over a year and gradually my ignorance receded. I learned from Abdul Hassan how to write an opinionated article with such subtlety that the reader would think the opinion his own…I received a raise from Dr. Nagati, the respect of my fellow workers and a few compliments from strangers…
She made her television debut as Kunte Kinte’s grandmother in the acclaimed television adaptation of Alex Haley’s Roots. And in the one-time high school dropout who never attended college became the Reynolds professor of American studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.
5. Forgive others and yourself.
In addition to enduring the injustices that came along with being poor, black and female in the South, Angelou was also raped as a child and beaten as a young woman. In a May 9th interview at her home she told Armstrong Williams, “I’ve learned that forgiving is one of the greatest gifts that I can give myself…And as soon as I do I feel lighter, brighter and better.”
In Gather Together in My Name, Angelou shares one of her lowest periods when she served as a pimp for two lesbian prostitutes and sometimes worked as a prostitute herself. In one interview, she said of the experience.
If you happen to fall into that sort of experience, what you have to do is forgive yourself. If you’re in the very gutter, see where you are and admit it. As soon as you admit it, you can be like the prodigal son, the prodigal daughter. Get up and go home — wherever home is. Get up and go to a safe place, someplace where your spirit is not kicked and brutalized and your body not misused and abused. Get up. But you can’t get up unless you see where you are and admit it.
In A Song Flung Up to Heaven, Angelou tells of her midlife crisis which was accompanied by great sorrow. Returning to the States after the end of a romance in Africa, Angelou became a Civil Rights activist only to be witness to the Movement’s greatest tragedies. She was working with Malcolm X to establish his foundation when he was assassinated New York City. Three years later she was working as the northern coordinator for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was gunned down in Memphis on Angelou’s 40th birthday. For a time, Angelou withdrew from society unable to deal with the tragedy, but eventually she harnessed her grief and regrets to write her seminal work, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. From then on, she would rise at dawn and set out for the motel room where she would write. Her only companions were a Bible, a dictionary, a thesaurus, a stack of legal pads, and a bottle of sherry. Having written her way out of the worst time in her life, she credited it with her survival. “All my work is meant to say, ‘You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated…Nothing will work unless you do.”
Angelou was a master of reinvention. She didn’t settle on a name until after her first marriage, claiming her childhood nickname and a twist on her first husband’s last name. For Angelou, change was essential. Perhaps more so when one decides nothing can be done at all. “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
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