When I was 9 years old, my dad took me to Bookmans Flagstaff, AZ, the one whose roof caved in that one winter because of the heavy snowfall. It was my favorite place to hang out as a kid, a close second to the library at Christensen Elementary. My librarians used to let me relax in the big windows during lunch time, even though they didn’t have to. I remember writing stories when I was in head-start at Siler Homes, when I hit first grade, but it wasn’t until I heard a poem read by my third grade student teacher that I realized a real thirst for poetry. Mz. Mac, long black hair, piercings, chains hanging off her well-put-together-teacherly belt loops, and the best handwriting I had ever seen, the aura that I was admiring as queer before that word made sense to me, Mz. Mac read from a compilation poetry book, and I knew something was being born inside of me.
My dad took me to Bookmans that weekend and as he sat talking to the video game dudes in the corner, I browsed sections I had never realized existed before. When I found the poetry section mixed in with the rest of the adult books, it all seemed so much bigger than I expected. I grabbed a step stool and read the names of writers I had never heard of. Where do it start?! How can I tell what one book is going to be about?! What even IS poetry?! I could taste it. An employee walked by me and asked if he could help me out with finding a book. I told him, “I’m looking for a poetry book but I don’t know who to choose.” He said, “Here, try this one. Let’s start with the A’s, and if you don’t like it, bring it back and I’ll find you another. She’s one of the best poets around.” He handed me Maya Angelou’s Complete Collected Poems. He didn’t redirect me to the children’s section, he didn’t ask me how old I was. He just helped me out with a book in the section I was looking through. I am forever grateful to you, Bookmans employee. Our interaction was a piece of the puzzle that is my life. I hopped off the stool and told my dad I was ready to go. I read the entire book on the drive home. Then I read it two more times when I got there.
19 years later, I’ve read it hundreds of times. So much in fact, that people have gifted me with numerous other copies because my original is so tattered and wrecked. After this exposure, I couldn’t get enough poetry, so I bought more of her books, checked them out at the Downtown Library, found more poets, all because of Maya.
I celebrate Maya Angelou today and everyday. I am reminded of the power of words. I am inspired by her entire life story, her strength, her love, her deep connection to humanity, her honesty. Maya Angelou was a poet, singer, actor, performer, director, sex worker, civil rights activist. Every part of her existence has shaped her writing and remembered brilliance, and it’s a shame to ignore any of it. She has molded me in many ways as a writer, and as a person. When I read her work, I am instantly taken back to being 9 years old, I am instantly reminded to live in the present. I am forever growing.
And I can honestly say I owe in large part, to a woman I never met, but influenced the way my pencil touched a paper, my undying love for poetry and the written word, to her.
-a story, a freewrite