In Memory of Maya Angelou

When Maya Angelou passed away at the end of May, the literary community experienced a great loss.  She penned amazing poetry that touched many people and helped open many doors of understanding.  When I heard about her passing, like many other people, I immediately put holds on my library’s copies of her poetry and the memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  I’m still waiting on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but I finally got the poetry volumes: The Complete Collected Poems and Phenomenal Woman.  (While Phenomenal Woman consists of poems contained within The Complete Collected Poems, I checked it out separately because the poems contained in the volume are in my opinion among her most powerful.)


I hadn’t read anything by her in quite a long time, but I still remember the first time I ever picked up her poetry.  In middle school, one of my English teachers had a copy of Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? on his shelf of free reading books.  Because I tended to be very far ahead in my work, I read pretty much everything on that shelf that year.  Interspersed between many “fun” novels, that were probably set there to seem like a reward when we got permission to read instead of having to do in class work, were some pieces of work that captivated my interest.  Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? was one of those pieces of work.  Within the volume, the poem that most caught me, and that is still probably my favorite of Maya Angelou’s poems is “Caged Bird.”


I’ve enjoyed rereading her poetry, and I remembered correctly that I found the four poems contained in the short volume Phenomenal Woman very powerful (“Phenomenal Woman,” “Still I Rise,” “Weekend Glory,” and “Our Grandmothers”).  I feel like this is a very representative selection, and while none of the four poems are as close to my heart as “Caged Bird,” I wish that more people read them.


I don’t really have the words to say my thoughts about Maya Angelou’s work right now.  Maybe I’ll have more thoughts after I’ve read her memoir again, but she was a phenomenal poet and an amazing human being.  She will be missed!


Book Review: The Vagrants by Yiyun Li

The Vagrants was Yiyun Li’s first novel, and it is the third of her books that I am reviewing.  Overall, I am less impressed with the novel than with her collections of short stories, but I still enjoyed the book, and I definitely thought it brilliant in places.


Much like her collections of short stories, The Vagrants shows the stories of many everyday people in China during the 1970s.  I like that the story focused on the lives of the people at the bottom of the social order for the most part.  The political plot line that tied the entire story together was interesting from a historical standpoint, and I found many individual moments in the story touching and believable.


At the same time, I found myself very much disliking many of the characters, which made it harder to love the book than it had been to love her collections of short stories.  There were some characters that I did feel for though, and all of the characters were interesting.  I think that this novel is an interesting read, but I wouldn’t rate it quite as highly as her short story collections.


Reading Level:  high school to college

Topics:  political upheaval and revolution, politics from the view of the everyday people