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Letter to My Daughter
Cover of Letter to My Daughter
Letter to My Daughter
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Maya Angelou shares her path to living well and with meaning in this absorbing book of personal essays.
 
Dedicated to the daughter she never had but sees all around her, Letter to My Daughter transcends genres and categories: guidebook, memoir, poetry, and pure delight.

Here in short spellbinding essays are glimpses of the tumultuous life that led Angelou to an exalted place in American letters and taught her lessons in compassion and fortitude: how she was brought up by her indomitable grandmother in segregated Arkansas, taken in at thirteen by her more worldly and less religious mother, and grew to be an awkward, six-foot-tall teenager whose first experience of loveless sex paradoxically left her with her greatest gift, a son.

Whether she is recalling such lost friends as Coretta Scott King and Ossie Davis, extolling honesty, decrying vulgarity, explaining why becoming a Christian is a “lifelong endeavor,” or simply singing the praises of a meal of red rice–Maya Angelou writes from the heart to millions of women she considers her extended family.

Like the rest of her remarkable work, Letter to My Daughter entertains and teaches; it is a book to cherish, savor, re-read, and share.

“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 Americans 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
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Maya Angelou shares her path to living well and with meaning in this absorbing book of personal essays.
 
Dedicated to the daughter she never had but sees all around her, Letter to My Daughter transcends genres and categories: guidebook, memoir, poetry, and pure delight.

Here in short spellbinding essays are glimpses of the tumultuous life that led Angelou to an exalted place in American letters and taught her lessons in compassion and fortitude: how she was brought up by her indomitable grandmother in segregated Arkansas, taken in at thirteen by her more worldly and less religious mother, and grew to be an awkward, six-foot-tall teenager whose first experience of loveless sex paradoxically left her with her greatest gift, a son.

Whether she is recalling such lost friends as Coretta Scott King and Ossie Davis, extolling honesty, decrying vulgarity, explaining why becoming a Christian is a “lifelong endeavor,” or simply singing the praises of a meal of red rice–Maya Angelou writes from the heart to millions of women she considers her extended family.

Like the rest of her remarkable work, Letter to My Daughter entertains and teaches; it is a book to cherish, savor, re-read, and share.

“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 Americans 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
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One 1
    Home

    I was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but from the age of three I grew up in Stamps, Arkansas, with my paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, and my father’s brother, Uncle Willie, and my only sibling, my brother, Bailey.

    At thirteen I joined my mother in San Francisco. Later I studied in New York City. Throughout the years I have lived in Paris, Cairo, West Africa, and all over the United States.

    Those are facts, but facts, to a child, are merely words to memorize, “My name is Johnny Thomas. My address is 220 Center Street.” All facts, which have little to do with the child’s truth.

    My real growing up world, in Stamps, was a continual struggle against a condition of surrender. Surrender first to the grown up human beings who I saw every day, all black and all very, very large. Then submission to the idea that black people were inferior to white people, who I saw rarely.

    Without knowing why exactly, I did not believe that I was inferior to anyone except maybe my brother. I knew I was smart, but I also knew that Bailey was smarter, maybe because he reminded me often and even suggested that maybe he was the smartest person in the world. He came to that decision when he was nine years old.

    The South, in general, and Stamps, Arkansas, in particular had had hundreds of years’ experience in demoting even large adult blacks to psychological dwarfs. Poor white children had the license to address lauded and older blacks by their first names or by any names they could create.

    Thomas Wolfe warned in the title of America’s great novel that “You Can’t Go Home Again.” I enjoyed the book but I never agreed with the title. I believe that one can never leave home. I believe that one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and dragons of home under one’s skin, at the extreme corners of ones eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe.

    Home is that youthful region where a child is the only real living inhabitant. Parents, siblings, and neighbors, are mysterious apparitions, who come, go, and do strange unfathomable things in and around the child, the region’s only enfranchised citizen.

    Geography, as such, has little meaning to the child observer. If one grows up in the Southwest, the desert and open skies are natural. New York, with the elevators and subway rumble and millions of people, and Southeast Florida with its palm trees and sun and beaches are to the children of those regions, the ways the outer world are, has been, and will always be. Since the child cannot control that environment, she has to find her own place, a region where only she lives and no one else can enter.

    I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honor our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.

    We may act sophisticated and worldly but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.


    2
    Philanthropy

    To write about giving to a person who is naturally generous reminds me of a preacher passionately preaching to the already committed choir. I am encouraged to write on because I remember that from time to time, the choir does need to be uplifted and thanked for its commitment. Those voices need to be encouraged to sing again and again, with even more emotion.

    Each single American giver...
About the Author-
  • Maya Angelou was raised in Stamps, Arkansas. In addition to her bestselling autobiographies, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Heart of a Woman, she wrote numerous volumes of poetry, among them Phenomenal Woman, And Still I Rise, On the Pulse of Morning, and Mother. Maya Angelou died in 2014.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 22, 2008
    From the mellifluous voice of a venerable American icon comes her first original collection of writing to be published in ten years, anecdotal vignettes drawn from a compelling life and written in Angelou's erudite prose. Beginning with her childhood, Angelou acknowledges her own inauguration into daughterhood in "Philanthropy," recalling the first time her mother called her "my daughter." Angelou becomes a mother herself at an early age, after a meaningless first sexual experience: "Nine months later I had a beautiful baby boy. The birth of my son caused me to develop enough courage to invent my life." Fearlessly sharing amusing, if somewhat embarrassing, moments in "Senegal," the mature Angelou is cosmopolitan but still capable of making a mistake: invited to a dinner party while visiting the African nation, Angelou becomes irritated that none of the guests will step on a lovely carpet laid out in the center of the room, so she takes it upon herself to cross the carpet, only to discover the carpet is a table cloth that had been laid out in honor of her visit. The wisdom in this slight volume feels light and familiar, but it's also earnest and offered with warmth.

  • Library Journal

    November 1, 2008
    This collection of short essays, most of them two or three pages long, continues Angelou's themes in "Even the Stars Look Lonesome and Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now" by combining personal experience with prescriptions for a meaningful life. Dedicating the book to the daughter she never had, Angelou recounts her childhood in Stamps, AR, where she endured the oppression of racism, an experience that has left its indelible mark on her. When she became pregnant during high school, she chose to have the child and raise him herself despite the difficulty, which taught her independence at a young age. She emphasizes the need for cultural tolerance and doesn't hesitate to reveal her own cultural misstepse.g., in Morocco, mistaking raisins in her coffee for cockroaches and walking on the tablecloth in Senegal. Angelou is at her best when she departs from popular views, as in her chapter on violence, in which she disagrees with those who see rape as solely about power and not about sexual violence. This collection will appeal to Angelou fans and those looking for short essays that offer important truths. Recommended for large collections.Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo

    Copyright 2008 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    September 15, 2008
    Poet and author Angelou, who has a son but no daughter, nevertheless speaks to all women as her daughter in this slim volume of stories, poetry, and life observances. Useful events of her own life become lessons for other women, including stories of abuse at the hands of men, finally absorbing the praise her mother heaped on her, accepting and respecting her gift for writing, appreciating the little acts of kindness that pass between friends, and finding friends in unexpected places. She relates candid stories of many a personal faux pas, committed in ignorance of other cultures and the lessons learned about humility. Recalling bittersweet memories of friends who have died, she notes that each of her birthdays is a remembrance of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on the same date. Pondering the commonality of the human heart in all artists, she applauds the influence of Celia Cruz, the Cuban singer, on Angelous own sense of rhythm in reading and writing poetry. Through the poetry of others, she explores the particular vigor of black poetry, writing of oppression and hope in the same breath. She is lyrical in her essays on race, religion, and regionalism as she recalls a life lived well into her seventies, sharing lessons learned on the art of living a good life. Readers will appreciate this first original collection in10 years by the author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969).(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2008, American Library Association.)

  • Baltimore Sun "It's a book to give to one's daughter, mother, son or father, but definitely one to be read and savored."
  • Washington Post Book World "Sound advice, vivid memory and strong opinion . . . What is clear is that [Maya] Angelou is, all these years later, still a charmer, still speaking her mind."
  • Kirkus Reviews "A slim volume packed with nourishing nuggets of wisdom . . . Overarching each brief chapter is the vital energy of a woman taking life's measure with every step."
  • Fredericksburg Free Lance--Star "Written in Angelou's beautiful, poetic style, the essays feel like warm advice from a beloved aunt or grandmother, whose wisdom you know was earned."
  • Rocky Mountain News "Spellbinding . . . Angelou delivers with her signature passion and fire. . . . Each [essay] delivers a powerful message."
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    Random House Publishing Group
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