"She will always be the rainbow in my clouds."
That's how Oprah Winfrey remembered the late poet, Maya Angelou, when she died in 2014 at age 86. Throughout their friendship that spanned almost four decades, the media mogul looked up to Angelou first as a writer and then as a friend and mentor.
Here Oprah recalls how reading Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings taught her to value her own experience as an African-American woman.
My heroes and heroines were in books, Maya Angelou and Alice Walker and people who I never imagined that I would grow up and actually come to know. My heroes were in the strength of women whose lives I related to.
I remember the very first time I read Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," I was in high school, and on the first page is an Easter piece. It begins, "Whatcha lookin' at me for, didn't come to stay, only came to say, Happy Easter Day." Now I grew up with the church and doing Easter pieces where there wasn't even a full book, but they'd just tear out little pieces and give to you to memorize. And that became my staple for developing self-esteem, standing up, orating in front of people.
When I read that book by Maya Angelou for the first time, I couldn't imagine that the world valued a black woman's story enough that it could actually be out in black and white, in print, on pages, and called a book. I just— 'cause I'd never read about anybody that was like me. So, the real feminism for me was about strength of character, believing that you were worthy, that I was worthy, and deserved what everyone else deserved, because I was female and black, that I had a right to that.
I think prior to reading Maya Angelou's "Caged Bird Sings" I always thought there was a hierarchy and that the hierarchy started with white men, and then white women, and then I would fall somewhere in there.