Book Review: Maya Angelou’s “Letter to My Daughter”

By Andrea Martinez

I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters. You are Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asian, Spanish-speaking, Native American and Aleut. You are fat and thin and pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you all. Here is my offering to you.
–          from Letter to My Daughter

About a month ago, the world suffered a remarkable loss in the death of “global renaissance woman,” Dr. Maya Angelou. Dr. Angelou, described by her son, Guy Angelou, as a teacher, activist, and artist, was unafraid of sharing her experiences and tribulations with the world in hopes of helping others learn from them.

An example of such is her book, Letter to My Daughter, published in 2008 and written to “the daughter she never had but sees all around her.”

In a very simplistic style, Dr. Angelou keeps her chapters short and sweet, using whatever message she is portraying as the punchline. She sprinkles her character into each chapter with anecdotes, even those that are focused on the lives of other people, creating a conversational ambiance between the reader and the book.

At times, the reader can feel like she really is speaking to her mother, or even her grandmother, due to Dr. Angelou’s slightly more old-fashioned opinion on tattoos and body piercings, the latter which she states she isn’t particularly partial to but is not bothered by because “the youth will grow older and will join the social sets in which they work and live,” shedding their rings and hoping that the holes heal to prevent their children from knowing of them.

However, in most other matters discussed in the book, Dr. Angelou does not think within social constructs; while she does consider them, keeping her portrayal of the world realistic, her logic is humane, her reasoning just. She discusses topics like racism, equality, poverty, rape, her experience as a single mother, and her admiration of people who inspired her in multiple ways to become her own person, the one the world came to know. Most admirably, she does this without bragging about herself. Instead, she relates to the reader situations in which she blundered, allowing one to feel like one is reading of a human being who is as exceptional as she is normal, and who did all she can to leave a positive mark on the world, as she instructs others to do.

Truthfully, not everybody can or will be Maya Angelou, but we can all learn from her.

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The author

From a large, loud family by the sea comes this 5 feet and a half inch tall moviephile. Talks too much or too little, makes her own coffee and tea, scrambles to meet deadlines, may or may not fall asleep during yoga. Is looking forward to owning a teacup pig upon graduating to pleasantly suffer with while (hopefully) in medical school. She hopes you are having a really nice day.

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