21st Century: Query 112 (Maya Angelou)
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
~ Maya Angelou was an American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim.
As a child, Maya Angelou was brutally raped; as a result, she remained voiceless – mute – for several years, her story trapped within her. As an adult, she wrote her memoirs, where she was able to finally release her truth. However, writing a public memoir can carry great risk, for example, family ostracism, professional liability, and even lawsuits.
How might a private person explore his or her voice without experiencing the public drama surrounding a published memoir? What is the difference between a public and private memoir? When should a memoirist opt for keeping a private journal as opposed to publishing it for a wider audience?