“Being a woman is hard work. Not without joy and even ecstasy, but still relentless, unending work. Becoming an old female may require only being born with certain genetalia, inheriting long-living genes and the fortune not to be run over by an out-of-control truck, but to become and remain a woman commands the existence and employment of genius. The woman who survives intact and happy must be at once tender and tough. She must have convinced herself, that she, her values, and her choices are important. In a time and world where males hold sway and control, the pressure upon women to yield their rights-of-way is tremendous. And it is under those very circumstances that the woman’s toughness must be in evidence” (Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t take Nothing for my Journey Now).
Maya Angelou, revered poet, speaker, and master teacher, will be speaking as part of a full week of Homecoming events sponsored by the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus. Dr. Angelou will be speaking at the Paramount Theatre in Denver at 7:30 pm on Friday, October 21st. Tickets are $40 and can be purchased through Ticket Horse.
The women I have always looked to for guidance in my life, my role models, my mentors, my guides, have almost always been women who, like me, had absent or inaccessible fathers, and experienced trauma early in their lives. Yet somehow, they not only survived—they thrived. Maya Angelou (b. 1928) is one of those women. I was a freshman in college when I first read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and that well-worn paperback is still one of my most valued possessions. I have re-read the book countless times, and each time I am in awe of the little girl who was raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was just seven, yet survived and grew into a respected and revered author, professor, and speaker. She is a woman of great stature, but her actual height is the least important aspect of her presence. It is the way she carries herself, deliberately, her shoulders squared, her eyes meeting yours directly. It is her voice—a deep, strong, slow, soothing song. She is indeed a phenomenal woman.
I believe she got there in large part because of her grandmother, who essentially raised her, and to whom she returned, mute and broken, soon after her assault. Her grandmother, other women in the small town of Stamps, Arkansas, and eventually her own mother, were her models of strength, grit, fortitude, beauty and grace. Maya Angelou has helped me find one answer to that question of why—why some women are able to overcome adversity and triumph, while others cannot, or do not. In the absence of an involved father, a strong female role model makes all the difference. A number of years ago, I was lucky enough to hear her speak in downtown Denver as part of a Unique Lives and Experiences program. I paid extra to go to a reception following her presentation. I patiently waited while others who wanted nothing more than to get close enough to inhale her wisdom took turns asking questions. Finally, I managed to squeeze close enough for her to see me. I raised my hand. Her eyes met mine, and she smiled. “Yes?” This was my moment—my one chance to ask Maya Angelou the question I had been dying to have the answer for ever since I had first read her work. “How do you write the truth without worrying about hurting those you love?”
She smiled, and looked at me as if I should already know the answer, as if it was a non-question: “The truth is the truth. Whether I write it or not, it is still the truth. People know what the truth is.” I encourage you to come hear Maya Angelou’s truth, for it will change you.