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Subject: Re: Angelou (was New Visa Issues for the US)
From: "Miller, Judith" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Miller, Judith
Date:Wed, 15 Mar 2017 22:49:17 +0000

text/plain (114 lines)

Dear all,
I have remained silent during this discussion, but the latest comments prompt this reply.  I will remain deeply and forever grateful to the 1973 teacher who offered my sophomore health class at a public high school near Cleveland, Ohio a choice of 3 books, one of which Angelou's _I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings_.  It was a brave choice in the 1970s, even though I did not understand it as such back then.   It was a riveting and eye-opening work.
Reading the book remains one of the most moving and transformational experiences of my teenage years.  I am not sure why the Opera-L listserv has veered onto this topic.   As it has, however, I will at least speak up for this author and this book and for any high school that assigns it.   It was one of the most important works that I read in high school--and I read a great deal, from Homer and Plato to Chaucer and Shakespeare, to Balzac, Proust, James Baldwin, and  Salinger.

Dr. Judith A. Miller [log in to unmask]
Department of History
Emory University
Atlanta, GA 30322  USA
Office phone: 404 727 6564
Fax: 404 727 4959
Emory Liaison, Council for European Studies

-----Original Message-----
From: Discussion of opera and related issues [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Michael Liebert
Sent: Tuesday, March 14, 2017 4:59 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: New Visa Issues for the US

On Tue, 14 Mar 2017 01:22:07 -0400, Bob Rideout <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>I imagine that Maya Angelou knew the difference between "their"
>and "there", or, did you mean "that there book"?

Your cheap shot here affords me the opportunity to share this letter I wrote years ago when my daughter was assigned that Angelou book.  I assume that most here know nothing about Angelou save for her greatness, so read on.

Mr. August xxxxxxxx, Principal
xxxxxxxxxx Junior High School
xxxxxxxx, NJ

Dear Gus,

    First, thank you for the invitation to the "brown bag" luncheon on Thursday, October 21. I look forward to attending.

    I would like to restate my objection here to the assignment of Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings as mandatory reading for my daughter (and others in 9-H) this past summer. I choose to do this in writing because it affords me an opportunity to organize my thoughts and it will allow you to consider what I say before we meet. I would hope that this can be a topic for discussion next week.

    xxxxxxx had to read Angelou's book along with Cather's My Antonia; and she selected Twain's Prince and the Pauper from a list of titles as her third summer reading book. No objective educated person would include Angelou with Twain and Cather on a list of books which ninth graders should be assigned, except perhaps if it were in connection with a political science course. But this was not for political science. It was for English.

    After we spoke at Open House, I had an opportunity to discuss this with Mrs. xxxxxxx whom you indicated was responsible for the summer reading selections. She told me how widely respected Angelou was and did not seem interested in my objections.

    My objections did not grow out of dislike for the poem Angelou read at the Presidential inauguration, though I admit to being turned off by her praise of every ethnic group save those which were primarily responsible for building this country and its institutions. Rather the objections arise from reading selections from her book on three pairs of facing pages I opened to at random.

    This is a book of black hate. Read the passages with me and see if you do not agree. (Page references are to the Bantam Books paperback edition of

        I laughed, too, but not at the hateful jokes made on my people. I laughed because, except that she was white, the big movie star [Kay Francis] looked just like my mother. Except that she lived in a big mansion with a thousand servants, she lived just like my mother. And it was funny to think of the whitefolks' not knowing that the woman they were adoring could be my mother's twin, except that she was white and my mother was prettier. Much prettier. [p. 99] <<<

    " ... jokes made on ... " This is English? But the substance is more important. Only a bitter, ignorant person would assume that a person's appearance was the key to being a movie star. Talent probably has something to do with it, as well as persistence, and the other things that bring success in any field. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." This is from material I read and remember from my high school days, but the Angelous of the world have a different message which is not the one we should be teaching our children.
We also read about the seven deadly sins. As I remember it, envy was one of them. Angelou's logic is not very good either. If one person looks like another to the point of being a virtual twin then it does not make sense to describe one of the two as "prettier; much prettier." Does it? Also, I looked up "whitefolk" in my Webster's Ninth and did not find it. I think I know what it means though but I am not sure about the s' that follows. Will my daughter learn to write like this in her English class?

        Then I wished that Gabriel Prosser and Nat Turner had killed all whitefolks in their beds and that Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and that Harriet Tubman had been killed by that blow on her head and Christopher Columbus had drowned in the Santa Maria. [p. 152] <<<

    Nice! These were Angelou's thoughts while listening to a Commencement address at her high school graduation ceremony.

        The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power. [p. 231] <<<

    I have never heard any white male refer to a black female as a "Ho."
But, of course it would be indelicate of Angelou to look to her own people for the causes of, and the solutions to, their problems. Maybe some of the problems that black females face are due to being seduced and abandoned by black males. Does this have to do with a lack of power? I think not. Blacks had much less economic and political power 50 years ago but as a group they had a strong family structure. Now after listening to the Angelous their collective family structure is in disarray. (It is cute, too, that the egalitarian Angelou chooses to capitalize black but not white.)

    I am sorry I have gone on for so long. But I find these excerpts so absurd that I guess I get carried away. I wonder if a white woman brought a similar manuscript to Random House (the original publisher) whether they have spent more than half an hour with it. I doubt it.

    What was the point of assigning this autobiography? Was it to demonstrate the artful use of the English language? Was it to serve as an example to my daughter of how to confront the problems she might face later in her own life? Or was it to bring Political Correctness to xxxxxxxxxx?

    Alas, I know the answer. And as citizen, father, and taxpayer, I do not like it. I ask you to review the titles that students at xxxxxxxxxx are required to read with Mrs. xxxxxxx, and ask her to remove those that are there for political rather than literary reasons.

Very truly yours,


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