In a BBC interview with Hermione Lee on November 22, 1998, Angelou argues that all people write autobiographically. In her strong, melodic voice, she shares:
In truth, everybody writes autobiographically, whether it's the blue's singer, the gospel singer, the lyricist for Haden, whether it's the lyricist for Jimmy Hendrix, the composer tells a truth, he/she confesses…this is what it is like to be a human being; this is how we wake up in the morning to find ourselves unloved; this is how we get through the day.
When I first read Maya Angelou's world-acclaimed memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I was 14-years-old and unaware that Angelou was one of the world's most prolific writers. I was aware, however, that Angelou had a power to connect to me, the reader, as she confessed to what it felt like to be displaced. In the opening of her memoir, Angelou writes: "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It's an unnecessary insult" (4). Many times in the writing courses I now teach, I read this quote to students and then invite them to write about a displacement in their lives that was "the rust on the razor that threatens the throat."
In the Writing and Psychology course I am teaching this Spring through Women's and Gender Studies, we began the semester by reading Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. As one student, Kristina, explains, the power of Angelou's writing lies in her invitation for readers to share their own life stories:
One of the main things that Angelou's piece taught me was the importance of sharing our stories, no matter what types of tragedies were in them. Knowing that I too have experienced pain and trauma, I always wondered if I would be able to
really share it to a group of people I didn't know. As I read Angelou's work,