Via Newscoma over at NiT, Mari is contemplating getting a nose ring. I have always wanted a nose ring, but never got one because a.) I have terrible skin, which only gets worse when exposed to things other people use to clear their skin up (which, come to think of it, is the same problem I have with non-drowsy cold medicine) and I’d rather not draw attention to it by putting something people will look at right on my face and b.) I have fears of dripping snot down it when I’m sick.
Is it just me or are we all beginning to suspect Maya Angelou might be overrated as a writer? What the fuck is with her Molly Ivins obit? Hilton Als says “Angelou writes from the vantage point of a woman who has compromised
nearly everything, and for what? To judge those who haven’t? This
sanctimoniousness clouds virtually all her work, despite its
readability.” to which I say, “Yeah, I think that’s right.” And, for reasons that I shall not go into for fear of getting my ass sued off by Angelou, after my time at Wake, I’ve come to think of her as someone who’s not up front about who she is. It’s fine. Not everyone owes the world everything, but she gives the appearance of leading a life open to scrutiny and yet, maybe it’s really not–the parts that don’t line up with her public persona.
Rachel is coming over tonight to fix my life. Who knew librarians made house calls? Still, it’s handy that they do.
Wow, I could use a librarian housecall.
I also know why the caged bird sings.So it doesn’t have to listen to Maya Angelou.
dammit, now you’ve intrigued me with your talk of lawsuits. "I’ve come to think of her as someone who’s not up front about who she is." Not upfront about what? About her personal history, her personal politics, her writing? All of the above?
Thank you. I’ve been unable to take Maya Angelou seriously for several years now. And the other day, in Target, Her face was on some ginormous display, and it … I don’t know. It was unsettling.
I read all her early work when I was a teenager and found it inspiring. As I got older, she got less and less interesting to me until finally the only thing I ever wonder about her is whether she’s a bigger prat than Oprah or is it the other way around? And did she influence Oprah to become a self-involved and oblivious to her privilege or was it the other way around or did they merely arrive at the same self-congratulatory place independently? She lost me way before the greeting card line.
And about the obit — some people have to make everything about themselves, even someone else’s death notice.
s it just me or are we all beginning to suspect Maya Angelou might be overrated as a writer?Like the others I’m far from "beginning" to suspect it…
Maya Angelou’s greatest gift is her ability to bring people together. Even the ultra-lefty commies and the ultra-righty gun nuts can join together and agree that her writing is crap.
Crap? Uh, fuck no, her writing isn’t crap. She’s one of those artists whose persona began to eclipse her art (like my favorite whipping boy of late, Tarantino). I was never a huge fan, but I was a fan. Ironically, I was probably more a fan of Angelou the persona who did gigs on Sesame Street than Angelou the author. Perhaps it is just that she represents something else in my mind (and others) than some of you.Reminds me of a discussion among some film critics some time back, about whether directors should hang it up after they reach a certain age, that their work was less effective at 50 than 30. Mind you, this is a discussion among dudes whose average age was about 35, and there was no way for any of us to have been there when the work was fresh and new. We experienced the more recent work in a contemporary time frame, and the older works, that have been canonized already, in a rear view.Artists are in part a product of their time, both for creation of their work and the reception of their work. Sometimes their act is old hat and sometimes it’s fresh to def.
Uh, that should have been our average age was about 30
Gandolf makes a good point about writers getting old.Then again…Did Faulker get old? I think not. With some authors, their greatness is such that if you say they got old, it reflects negatively on you… not them.The question is… is this a problem of critics or authors.Personally.. I refuse to acknowledge superiority in any writer of greeting cards.I may suck.. but at least I have a soul.
Nate, do you mean old as in "age" or old as in "I’m tired of their crap?"I didn’t take sides on whether an artist’s work gets worse as they age (I don’t think you can generalize; some get better as they age, some do not). You’re more on point with your framing of the question "is this a problem of critics or authors[?]"
GM, yep, I think you’re right. I got older and my tastes changed. In the 1960s, the "self-actualized black woman speaking to the experience of all black women by turning her life into art" persona was something that white audiences had rarely encountered outside of a jazz or blues song. Now that cultural field is a whole lot more crowded and she’s less culturally relevant and we’ve all got older. She’s segued into a "wisdom woman" persona…that’s a familiar cultural position in many black communities, but white communities not so much maybe. There’s something of the "authenticity" question here too that reminds me of the country music conundrum. She’s gotten too rich to frame her work as a black Everywoman so it’s a tendency in an audience looking for authenticity to discount whatever insights she has as "crap."
GandalfI wasn’t talking about writers getting worse with age as a generalization… some do.. some don’t.I was talking about the way we grow tired of the contemporary. Its the literary version of pop music. The writer has a hook and while its new and fresh everyone loves it. Eventually everyone catches up to them, or new authors with new hooks show up, and we grow tired of them.
Looping back to the housecall…is this a one-off affair, one-stop-fixing? I know that Rachel is ONE gifted librarian and she probably has a LOT of things to do with her life, but geeze louize, I’m so unfixed right now, I think it would take a battery of librarians and an illusionist to make me think of my happy place to get me close.B – I hope you get to see the play. Hazel O’ introduced the evening. Howard Gentry proclaimed it ‘Ordinary Heroes’ day and my alma mater decided it was time to make some reparations, and oh yeah, the play was pretty damn moving.
Librarian 2.0, y’all. :)
Hmm, I’m with Gandalf and Bridgett on Maya Angelou. I don’t think her writing skill is the problem. She writes good poetry, and some nice prose when she gets around to it.The problem is the persona that goes with it. The niche she’s trying to fill. It is a niche that was new and original and urgently needed when she started out, and one that, well… is less new and original now (one might argue about whether it is still urgently needed; after all, people still need inspiration in the same way, even though the particulars of what counts may have changed). Especially given her change in station, it rings rather false.I’ll admit that I don’t mind the "wisdom woman" pose so much (now that it’s not being forced down my throat at every birthday and special occasion, but that’s a rant for a different time), but I do mind the self-aggrandizement that seems to have cropped up with it. The obit veered screamingly into that (and I’m usually willing to forgive that style of writing; I dig "I" statements and personal anecdotes, you might’ve noticed), as has a lot of her activity of late. It seems less of an "I am a wise old black woman who can speak from experience, and occupy this beloved niche in the community" than an "I am The Voice Of Black Womanhood" position. It’s actually kind of like your objection to Jesse Jackson’s reaction in the Michael Richards thing.All of which is not about writing skill, but about personality and perception. I’m willing to ding her for those things (which I also think are often more relevant to a discussion than the art in question, unfortunately), but not for being a poor writer. One might reframe the question a bit – is she overrated as a writer because of the personality and perception issues? That is, is she a good writer who has done good work that is nonetheless blown all out of proportion by her encouragement of the perception that she is the pinnacle of Black Womanly Wisdom? I’d be interested in seeing what people think about that version.
And ooh, I could totally use a librarian to come fix up my life. My books are neatly inventoried and sitting in boxes open on the floor, if they’re not taking up space in my kitchen cupboards. The rest of my life is likewise messy.Where does one acquire librarians with spare time and big hearts, anyway? Do you have to feed them? I think I could feed just about anyone who wanted to come clean this mess up while I’m at work. (Because remember folks, I can clean up anyone’s mess but my own! Want your house cleaned? Mag’ll rescue you, if you’re close. But my own poor little house just never seems to work.)
Mag, you have hit on my other irritation with her, which I should have brought up, but did not. I get the feeling that she chooses her public role based on what position she feels is open, instead of her public role being some manifestation of who she is, if that makes sense.Did you see her reading her Christmas poem on Oprah? It was hilarious. She would read and then Oprah’s voice would overlap hers and then back and forth like something that was itself and the parody of itself at the same time.And then she did something in that poem I just can’t get past:We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.Peace.Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,Implore you, to stay a while with us.So we may learn by your shimmering lightHow to look beyond complexion and see community.It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.On this platform of peace, we can create a languageTo translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus ChristInto the great religions of the world.We jubilate the precious advent of trust.We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.All the earth’s tribes loosen their voicesTo celebrate the promise of Peace.We, Angels and Mortal’s, Believers and Non-Believers,Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.My reaction then is my reaction now: No, no, no, no, no. Fuck you, no. How dare you get on national TV in your wise old poet grandmother persona and suggest that Christmas brings all of these religions (and non-religions) together to celebrate the Birth of Jesus? No, it doesn’t. Christianity does not contain the truthiest universal truth of religion and all other religions are not secondary to it. And this idea, that everyone in the world is transformed by the celebration of the birth of Jesus and that we, all six billion of us, join together in looking heavenward and wishing for peace because of it is vile.And it’s vile in a way I would expect a person who’d been through what Angelou has been through to immediately recognize, not get on Oprah and promote.
Ewwww. No, I hadn’t heard that, and I can totally see how that would piss you off. Hell, it pisses me off.I still don’t think it makes her a bad writer, but definitely less situationally aware and more opportunistic than anyone trying to lay claim to Wisdom and Authenticity like she does ought. You can’t be Our Mother or The Wise Woman if you just spout off things that are factually wrong, especially if you do so in a way that is patently offensive. You could still claim to be The Voice Of Experience, I suppose, as experience is under no aegis not to be bitter or cruel, but it winds up being the same problem, since this Experience is rooted in oppression and strength… which makes that an Exchange vs. Change problem, to a degree.*blinks*It’s early, heh. That was a little convoluted. But I understand better where you’re coming from, Aunt B. I’ve been trying to strenuously avoid Maya Angelou, Oprah, and most other Strong And Wise Black Women Whom I Should Be Emulating To Be A Good Black Woman Myself for a very, very long time. So while I’m familiar with their accomplishments and strengths, I’m none too familiar with their weaknesses.
As much as I’m a sucker for that Wise Woman stuff, too, which I am for a variety of reasons, I sometimes think that there’s a way that I, as a white feminist, have to be very careful, too, that I’m not mad because Angelou isn’t a competent magical black woman.So, there’s that element, too.
As I told B the other night, and in agreement with some of what I’ve read above, I do think that Angelou has some public persona that is meaningful but also lends itself to questions about authenticity & voice. She has a sort of calming presence that demands we think about love and patience. However, her writing doesn’t back up that seeming depth, and her commercialism just outright contradicts it. And so we are left with something between confusion and rejection.