This week there is great joy and great sadness in the world of reading. There is so much more that I can talk about, but I’ll stick to the two things that have touched me the most–the passing of Dr. Maya Angelou and the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter.
RIP Dr. Maya Angelou
This week we lost one of the greats. Dr. Maya Angelou will ever be remembered as one of the most noteworthy writers and poets of the 20th century.
I once had the pleasure to meet Dr. Angelou, and I’d like to share that story with you.
The Boston University Barnes & Noble is a five story building in the middle of Kenmore Square in Boston, Massachusetts (USA). The news that Dr. Maya Angelou would be stopping there on her book tour for Even The Stars Look Lonesome was met with great anticipation. I was a 19 year old college freshman, and I stood in line to buy my copy of the book. I followed directions to join the line and was dismayed to find that while Dr. Angelou would be signing on the fifth floor, I was sitting on the floor of the third in what felt like an endless line. I didn’t know that I should have showed up hours earlier.
I wasn’t the last person in line, but my heart was heavy when the B&N employees started to warn us that Dr. Angelou would only be signing for two hours, and the likelihood of our meeting her was next to nil. However, if we wished to spend hours waiting in a line to accomplish nothing, we were welcome to do so. Two hours came and went, and I held my breath, certain that we would be summarily dismissed. I had made it to the fourth floor, but the floor between myself and Dr. Angelou might well have been miles.
Dr. Angelou had decided to sign for a little longer. It had been three hours since she started signing and four since I’d started waiting in the line from hell. (I hadn’t been to a Harry Potter Midnight release at that point–I had no idea what a long line really looked like.) I don’t know why I persisted, but my stubborn side kicked in and I waited, and inched forward.
I reached the fifth floor and could see the woman I’d first seen in Roots, when we were shown the miniseries in seventh grade, the poet I’d watched at the first Presidential inauguration I’d ever seen–Bill Clinton in January of 1993, the author and rape survivor whose book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings had been required reading at my high school. I saw one of the few women I looked up to as a role model. A few steps more and I began to hear her distinctive, beautiful voice.
By the time I reached the front of the line, Dr. Angelou had been signing for more than twice as long as she had scheduled. She must have been exhausted. I’m sure her hand was cramped from who knows how many sharpies exhausted by signatures. Yet she still spoke to each and every person as if we mattered to her–as if we were doing her a favor, rather than the other way around. She signed my book with my name, the word “joy!” and her signature.
I don’t remember what I said to her, but what she said to me was seared into my brain and my heart. She told me that every day the slate is wiped clean and we are given a fresh start.
“People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”–Maya Angelou. I know that I am one of a thunderous chorus of people singing her praises. But she was a woman who deserved every last drop of praise and kindness and love we felt for her, and more. I don’t know that before or since that cold day in 1997 have I met someone as gracious as Dr. Angelou.
Dr. Angelou reads my favorite poem of hers “Phenomenal Woman.”
A few more links for you
- 50 facts everyone should know about Maya Angelou
- Oprah remembers Maya Angelou (Angelou considered Oprah the daughter she never had)
- The erasure of Maya Angelou’s past as a sex worker (She was never ashamed of it—why are we?)
- Maya Angelou Quotes (the goodreads version–there are many floating around)
- Her official website (which currently has a note from her son Guy on the front page)
Reading Rainbow Kickstarter
The other big news in the world of reading this week was the launch of the Reading Rainbow kickstarter. For those of you who have never had the pleasure, Reading Rainbow was a television show hosted by Levar Burton, which launched in 1983. I was five when it began, and although I was already a reader, it grabbed my attention and helped create a lifelong reader. Some of the books on the girl’s shelves are books I first encountered on Reading Rainbow. Elanor, now the same age I was when it first aired, is also a fan. (I won’t tell you that can bittorrent the entire series because that would be wrong) Many episodes and segments are available on youtube as well.
A few years ago, Reading Rainbow launched an app. My husband (who was seven when RR launched–and is a fan, but not nearly as big a fan as I am/was) and I were bitterly disappointed that it was exclusive for iPads. Last year, an android version launched–but again, was linked to a specific tablet rather than the platform as a whole. So we have not been able to get Elanor (and Rhi) the app even though we have been eagerly waiting for the chance to throw mon
ey their way for years.
Well, now we can. Reading Rainbow has launched a kickstarter to get Reading Rainbow onto the web and make it available to schools. We have already donated. I think you should too, but you don’t have to take my word for it.
They met their initial goal of 1 million dollars and at the time of writing this are at 2.6 million USD with 33 days left to go. But just because they’ve reached their goal is no reason to not donate.
I’d like to think that Dr. Angelou would be proud of how people have stepped up to help Reading Rainbow.