That’s what my oldest son wants to know, “I don’t understand something. Why is Maya Angelou famous?” I swallow my first reaction and remind myself he is 25 years old and Dr. Angelou is 83. I tick off her literary award winning novels like I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, remind him that we watched her recite an original poem at President Clinton’s second inauguration, and quote a few stanzas of “Phenomenal Woman,” the official poem of African-American feminists since 1978. He is spectacularly unimpressed.
“All I know is she sounds like she’s from the East Coast even though she’s from the South and she is Oprah’s hero,” he says, shrugging as if almost anyone who grew up in Stamps, Arkansas can speak like an ivy league graduate AND mentor (arguably) the most famous black woman in the world.
I tell him that she is also a dancer, actress, playwright, and professor. He pretends to be moved for my sake, but I know him. He’s not impressed.
I rack my brain for some archetypal symbol from hip hop or fishing to help him understand the rock star status of Dr. Angelou for women like me. Finally, I say, “I don’t understand why anyone would watch football all day long on a holiday, but that doesn’t make it wrong nor does it mean John Madden shouldn’t be famous.” He smiles at me. His dimples confirm our unspoken agree(ment) to generationally dis(agree)…with love.
Hear Dr. Maya Angelou recite Phenomenal Woman