Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, literary giants whose works inspire

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Pulitzer Prize-winning literary icon Toni Morrison has set the bar high for writers, helping to make a solid mark in the pantheon of literature and education.

By Onissa Sancho

Women’s History Month is celebrated in March to recognize contributions and give honor to amazing females, past and present, who have made their personal mark in a world labeled ‘a man’s world.’  OnPointPress.net is shining the spotlight on living legends Maya Angelou (birth name Marguerite Ann Johnson) and Toni Morrison (birth name Chloe Ardelia Wofford), two influential women in the literary world and the black community, especially. Only a few years apart in age, both ladies have been blessed with a way of articulating, telling stories which attract others to their masterpieces and inspire readers and budding writers to aim for the best in their work as well.

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Poet, author, director, professor and activist Maya Angelou inspires women to be great as she richly describes in her lyrical poem, ‘Phenomenal Woman.’

“The world had taken a deep breath and was having doubts about continuing to revolve,” reads a line from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, the first book in her seven-series autobiography. As a young girl growing in Stamps, Arkansas, Angelou, 85, enjoyed reading, which is why she writes so well. In the book, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, the majority of the time Angelou creates sentences that leap off the pages but there are specific moments when the reader is pleasantly caught off guard by her descriptive way of writing. Like Angelou shows in the sentence above, she  is able to use simple wording to beautifully illustrate what she is thinking and feeling. Carmen Lawrence, a native Jamaican who currently lives in New York, recalls the first time she became aware of Maya Angelou.

“I was in Brooklyn and I just happened to be looking for black literature, when I saw Angelou’s book, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” she said.

Jamaican-American book lover Carmen Lawrence admires Maya Angelou's writing style.

Jamaican-American book lover Carmen Lawrence admires Maya Angelou’s writing style.

As an African-American woman, and through her constant dedication as a writer, Angelou has influenced many black people into wanting to read and write more. After reading one or all of the books in Angelou’s seven-series autobiography the reader will definitely take notice that she didn’t have an easy life. Molested as a child and being a teenage mother are just two hardships Angelou had to overcome. In spite of everything that went on in her life, she didn’t allow anything to negatively affect her progress in life.

Unlike Angelou, Morrison’s childhood was a good one despite the fact that she was the only black child in her first grade class during a time of great racial discrimination in the United States. Morrison, 83, enjoyed reading as a child but began her journey of writing at the age of 39. Nuns go by as lust, and drunken men’s sober eyes sing in the lobby of the Greek hotel,” is a line from Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, the story of a young black girl who believes all her worries would not exist if she only had blue eyes.

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Shannon Thomas, editor-in-chief of Seawanhaka Press at LIU Brooklyn, New York, is a fan of Toni Morrison’s literary style.

“It’s hard to digest the first time you read a Toni Morrison book,” said Shannon Thomas, who is a student and editor-in-chief of Seawanhaka Press, the student newspaper of Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus. Thomas discovered Morrison in her search for black literature while in junior high school. “I haven’t come across another female writer who can stand her own next to Toni Morrison.”

Morrison’s style of writing is very distinct and can be a lot to take in, especially the very first time reading her work. The topics of her stories are relatable and most often come from the experience of reality, told through Morrison’s eyes and imagination.

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Not only are both Angelou and Morrison heavy hitters in the literary community, but each has worked on outside projects which have influenced fans in a broader sense.

“Maya Angelou is well rounded in the arts,“ said  Lawrence. Young Angelou indulged herself in dancing, studying with Martha Graham and performing with Alvin Ailey; singing and recording a few albums; the first was called Calypso Lady and was produced in 1957. Angelou has also created poetry, cookbooks, children’s books, directed movies such as Down in the Delta, a 1998 Miramax Film; written a few films and is currently a professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, where she has taught since the 1980’s.

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Toni Morrison was a textbook editor, and edited for New York City’s Random House headquarters as well as being a college professor. Teaching at a number of colleges, including Yale University, two branches of the State University of New York, Rutgers University, her most recent teaching job was held at Princeton University, where she remained until retirement in 2008. Though retired from teaching, Morrison is still writing. She began her most recent novel, Home in 2010. That same year she experienced the tragic loss of her second son; who helped her create a few children’s books. Home was completed in 2012.

Both women have won numerous awards. Morrison won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988, the Noble Prize for literature in 1993 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.  Morrison’s novel Beloved was turned into a film, starring Oprah Winfrey. Angelou won the National Medal of Arts in 2000 was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 and was nominated for a Pulitzer, Tony and Grammy Awards for spoken word.

Thanks to their impressive contributions to the world of literature, readers and writers all over the world, especially females, will remember to honor their achievements, not only during Women’s History Month but every day, in some way.–OnPointPres.net.

Onissa Sancho is an intern at OnPointPress.net. Please follow her on Twitter @osjou222.