The Way Maya Angelou Treated Her Work

There was a certain kind of critic that Maya Angelou wanted to, as she put it, grab by the throat and wrestle to the ground.

They were usually New York critics. Based many miles from her home in Winston-Salem. Though home was not where she worked.

For that, she rented a hotel room. Took out the paintings, decorations. Put in yellow pads, dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus, King James Bible, bottle of sherry. Lay her six foot frame across the bed. And wrote. From about 6:30am until 12:30pm (if it was going badly) or 2pm (if it was going well).

The hotel room, the sherry and all was a routine she had for most of her life. In every town she lived. It was born of a need to keep her home pretty. And her work environment bare.

But those New York critics. They would say things like Dr. Angelou was a natural writer, had a way with words.

To which Dr. Angelou had to resist the aforementioned throat grab. Because during those 6:30 to 12:30 – or 2pm – hours, she was working at the language. “It takes me forever,” she told The Paris Review, “to get it to sing.”

But you can’t beat a song out of a bird. So, while the work was long. And it was hard. Dr. Angelou didn’t punch words into submission. She did something altogether different.

“I would continue to play with [the writing] and pull at it,” she explained. “And say, I love you. Come to me. I love you.”

And perhaps that’s what those New York critics saw in Dr. Angelou’s writing. What made it look so natural.

Because Maya Angelou in those bare hotel rooms didn’t just work and pull at words on a yellow pad. She loved her writing to life.

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