The first volume of Maya Angelou’s autobiography begins with Marguerite arriving in Stamps, Arkansas, at three years old, with her brother, Bailey, one year older, in the care of Miss. Annie Henderson, their grandmother (“Momma”).
It moves from the store to the churchyard, from hymn-singing to beatings. It crosses time and space fluidly. The language is spare and powerfully so.
Even on rereading (this was my third reading, the second in 2011), it remains visceral, the scene with her mother’s boyfriend, with all the shame and warmth and fear and comfort, all of it happening all at once and, then, forever.
The parts that I had forgotten (like the time that she and Bailey spend with their mother and, separately, with their father, overshadowed by the intensity of their experiences in Stamps) quickly returned, the intensity of her bond with Bailey re-rooting these easily, so poignant, all over again.
I found myself reciting the most memorable bits to Mr. BIP on a walk: “If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.”