Among the many tributes to Maya Angelou, who died Wednesday at age 86, the one by former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey that ran in The Post’s Style section was both haunting and empowering.
She writes about how an emotionally abusive stepfather had frightened her into silence, and how she found her voice after reading “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Angelou’s autobiography, in which she described events surrounding a childhood rape that led her to all but stop speaking for several years.
I was deeply affected by Angelou’s harrowing and triumphant story, and I could see in her account of how she came to have a voice — a writer’s voice — something of my own experience.
In my own home, I was silenced by another kind of fear. For years, my stepfather had been tormenting me whenever my mother was away from home. Sometimes he would come into my room and make me pack my suitcase, telling me that I was stupid, that he was going to commit me to what was then called “the Georgia Mental Health and Retardation Center.”
She goes on to describe how she eventually found the courage — and the medium — to confront her stepfather and find her calling as a writer. Thanks to Maya Angelou.