With the death of Maya Angelou, I offer a few intersections between Angelou and James Baldwin.

James Baldwin and Maya Angelou

At 80, Maya Angelou Reflects on a ‘Glorious’ Life:

Angelou says author James Baldwin, whom she considers a brother, had a covert hand in getting her to write “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Acting on Baldwin’s advice, Angelou’s editor tried a little reverse psychology and told her that writing an autobiography as literature was “almost impossible” and she shouldn’t even attempt it.

“I said, ‘Well, hmmm, maybe I’ll try it.'” Angelou recalls. “The truth is that he had talked to James Baldwin, my brother friend, and Jimmy told him that ‘if you want Maya Angelou to do something, tell her she can’t do it.'”

Angelou and Baldwin in The Price of the Ticket.

Dr. Maya Angelou: “I hear Baldwin as a part of the continuity, begun if you will for me anyway, with Frederick Douglass in 1849 in the slave narrative. I hear his voice. I hear Baldwin when I think of Jupiter Hammon, a slave in the 18th century. I hear Baldwin in the music, the lyric really, of George Moses Horton, writing about 1840, ’50. He wrote ‘Alas, and was I born for this, to wear this slavish chain–‘ I hear Baldwin.”

Recommended: Talking Back to Maya Angelou, Hilton Als

Overview of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings from Salem Press.