Maya Angelou: Child of a Gangstress
Mama Don't Take No Mess
Marguerite Johnson's relationship with her mother did not start off as a love affair. The name Maya Angelou came later in her evolution into the artist and woman we know today. She is the youngest of 2 children, and her parents divorced when she was 3. Maya and her brother were sent to live with her grandmother in Arkansas for a few years, and two scorned children were returned to their mother when Maya was 13. Maya's older brother, Bailey Johnson Jr., took the separation especially to heart. He carried anger and bitterness with him, and later in life he fell into the abyss of drug addiction for time.
The awkward reunion was followed by separate visits to their father's home in Mexico, who was henpecked by his new young wife. He also created further tensions by lying to his spouse about the children's ages. Bailey was sent first, and he did not offer much insight on the experience, but he did mention he was glad it was over.
Then it was Maya's turn. After being left alone in a car while her father drank himself under the table, a young Maya was forced to drive him home. She was always a taller girl, so she was able to operate the vehicle, but after the experience she decided she did not need to be in her father's life if she didn't have to be.
The Johnson children returned to their mother confused on how to address their new living arrangement. Luckily, their mother was open to questions and allowed them to respectfully express their feelings, good and bad. Up until the move, Maya saw her grandmother as Mother, which left her birth mother without a title. Vivian noticed how Maya never addressed her, and after some discussion, Maya decided to call her mother "Lady" until further notice.
Tales of a True Gangstress
Love and a Bullet
The relationship between Maya and her mother was forged through a series of unfortunate events.
One of the memorable accounts is of a dysfunctional relationship Maya had with an ex-boxer who had lost some fingers due to a work-related injury.
While out on a typical date, Maya was accused of running around on her lover. She was so head-over-heels in love with him the ludicrous idea made her laugh out loud.
He beat her unconscious.
Not only did her mother, who owned several gambling houses and was best friends with a bail bondsman, find where her daughter was being held hostage, she nursed Maya back to health, staged a meeting between her daughter and the captor, and equipped her daughter with a gun and a simple instruction to kill him on sight.
Not only did Maya mercifully spare his life, she let him know there were others who would no doubt do him harm all in allegiance to the great Vivian Baxter.
If that is not gangster, I don't know what is!
If you are a Maya Angelou fan, you may notice I am not talking about the rape. Angelou touches on it, but she explores it in , so it is not explained in a way that dominates I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The theme of this book is the years of growing together that led Maya and Lady to become thick as thieves. From her teenage pregnancy, to her childbirth, to the "investment" in her future that would lead to a better job and more time to become a better mom, Maya's mother made every sincere effort to be there for her in every major life decision. Mom and Me and Mom
Maya had a stint as an exotic dancer in an upscale establishment. The gig paid much more than her job at the record store. When she told Lady of the opportunity, they both went to the costume shop until they found the right outfit. Maya had a passion for performing. She sang at the Apollo and she wrote for film, but her heart always led her back to dance. She joined dance classes for pleasure.
Her first marriage, which is where she took the surname Angelou, was doomed from the start. Lady gave her opinion on the marriage, but gave her daughter space to make her own mistakes. Maya was concerned with her son Guy having a father figure, and her husband was a serviceman with the finances to make her life a little easier. He was also a staunch atheist who did not want her to attend weekly worship services. Her mother was happy he took care of Maya and Guy, but she let her disagreement with the husband's controlling ways known, which caused a rift between herself and her daughter. When the marriage was over, all was forgiven.
Malcom X and Maya
Better With Time
If You Think I'm Tough, You Should Meet My Mother
If we only knew of Maya Angelou through pictures, she would still be a fascinating person of interest. She rubbed shoulders with the best, acted, sang and danced the world over and used her influence to improve the world. After reading this book, it is obvious her tenacity was the direct result of being trained by her flawed and loving mother.
What is most wonderful about her life is how she used her scars to show overcoming is possible with love in action, not just the idea of love. This book is an exposé of sorts. Angelou was never afraid of being personal. It was her humanity that connected with so many people. Today at the ripe young age of 86 Maya transitioned. This book is her best memoir. I will be rereading it in honor of her, her strong parentage and her artistry.