Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf ~ Featuring Maya Angelou and Sue Monk Kidd

By Lynn Willoughby

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ~ Maya Angelou

This autobiography was written in 1969 and was the first of a seven volume series on her life. This is a coming of age story which begins with three year old Maya and her elder brother Bailey, as they are shipped off by their mother to Stamps Arkansas to live with their grandmother. This award winning writer, speaker, advocate died recently and was a prolific writer. I don’t think this is necessarily her best work but I wanted to pick something to honour her.

Racism, trauma, poverty, loss of self-worth, violence, fear – we see it all through young Maya’s eyes. But her quest for independence, an education and personal dignity – the model of her strong and fearless grandmother, lead her through the male-dominated society she lives with every day. Books and reading are always her refuge and the power of words help her to cope with a “bewildering world.”

She does learn to love herself and goes on to lead a very successful life as a poet, dancer, actress, singer and author. She was a respected spokesperson for black people and women throughout the American south. She died May 28, 2014.

In her obituary, her son says; “She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace…” I think this is extraordinarily beautiful and so very fitting.

– And Still I Rise
– The Heart of a Woman
…….and many others

The Invention of Wings ~ Sue Monk Kidd

“The Secret Life of Bees” – this author’s very first novel was wonderful. Her next was so so and this was very draggy. Sometimes, a person just has one REALLY good novel in them.

This story alternates chapters between Sarah – the daughter of a wealthy, Charleston judge, and Handful, the ten year old slave girl given to Sarah on her eleventh birthday. The idea is that we will see day to day life in the household from these two very different perspectives. The problem, for me, was that not very much was happening!
I got really bogged down by descriptions of fashion, hats, quilts, tea parties, how a debutante should behave, courting rituals, etc, etc.

The conflict always had more to do with the restrictions imposed on women than the very real question of slavery, or the complex relationship between Sarah and Handful.

Some thirty five years pass in this saga, marked by sorrow, guilt, brutality, betrayal and ostracism. But there was nothing new in the story. After reading such wonderful novels of this time in history, in books such as “The Help” and “The Queen of Palmyra”, I found this to be hard slogging and was ready to put it aside many times.

This novel was based on the life of historical figure Sarah Grimke, and Kidd has fleshed it out to suit her style, but I found the book very under whelming.

– The Secret Life of Bees
– The Mermaid’s Chair
……and several works of non-fiction

Who Knew?

The value of a slave was based on their skills and the smooth running of a household or a plantation. Like a milking cow is worth more than a dry cow, a skilled seamstress ($500) was worth more than an elderly slave ($1), who had worked a lifetime for the owner.

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