Inspiring Autobiographies

Queen Latifah. Sidney Potier. Maya Angelou.

As I thought about writing this post I began to mentally sift for the similarities between these three. For a long time I was stuck as I thought of their growings-up, the places and atmospheres they had lived in, who they were before fame: an abused girl trying to be a rapper, a young man fighting for success as an actor, a young girl fighting for herself and her son. Of course, I was aware of their being American but being American though it is a similarity, wide and far are the differences with the numerous diversities of its peoples.

And finally, I did the very last thing I do when I’m stuck: I visualized. I am not a very visual person. A writer, or any other communicator needs to have mastered imagery if they are to take me into their world with my eyes as a guide. I usually read a few lines of descriptions and then scan the rest, because it is a waste of time. What else do you call reading lengthy paragraphs on a room and seeing hardly anything. Instead, I feel. If descriptions are given with a lean towards the emotional I will feel it. It is one of my weakness, and a little bit of a strength.

But that’s beside the point because I already knew their faces. But I didn’t look at them in my mind before moments ago, and it struck me that they are all black. I don’t place value on people based on their skin colour. Rather I see it as a historical landmark. And this landmark of coloured skin which we share, of being descendants of another land far away, of finding bits of yesterday’s self everyday might have been another subconscious reason why I clung to their stories and their successes. I was able to, through reading their lives from their perspective, see the underdog rise: One who’d seen abuse first hand, another who’d grown much in a place like my own, and one who had fell into trouble on her own.

I saw a little of myself in all of them and because of this I felt as though in their rise a piece of me also rose. A piece of me held onto small bits of hope. Hope which stated clearly, yet softly that I can escape the boundaries of being a historical landmark of Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean, of being an emotionally tarred female, and of being different. Unbeknownst to me at the time was that a large part of me held onto those bits of hope. This I recently realized as I thought of what I hope to do, and how confident I feel in it when I really thnink I shouldn’t. But somehow, I am confident that I can: “Obliterate Shakespeare”. Not tarnish his legacy of course. I respect him,and his words. Rather, I intend to be the shadow he lies in. That is the goal.

I know it sounds impossible. (Maybe a little silly.) But it isn’t. I believe it. And I will. I will change lives with abuse-themed poetry. I will change opinions with research papers on the same. I will open, and guide young minds with texts on Caribbean History. These are my main focus, but they aren’t the end. I have stories infesting my heart from its centre out. To survive, I must myself remove them with an inked sword, and remove them I will.

This sounds nothing like the life of Queen Latifah, Sidney Poitier, or Maya Angelou except that they have all fenced with inked swords and succeed. And perhaps that’s all they really needed for me to fall into the bosom of their stories. Perhaps, all the struggling me needed were stories of writers who didn’t begin as writers, who fought, who won. Perhaps all I really needed were persons who spat words of power, lived resistance successfully. Perhaps they were only inspiring because they provided reflections that were successful in being a successful me…perhaps.

I can only say those things now, because I didn’t know them before. I hadn’t thought of why they touched me so. I hadn’t thought of why they stayed so deeply buried. I just thought that it was the captivating manner in which they all wrote, the conversational tone they all shared, the openness they all possessed in the dark of their nights. I thought it was just their writing, and the dream-like idea of success. But I guess it isn’t ‘just’ their mastery of words. I know… But I must say their autobiographies were well written, and this to me is always of utmost importance. (I don’t mind being bored by a speaker but writers are never extended that luxury.)

Ladies First: Revelations of a Strong Woman: Queen Latifah
The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography by Sidney Poitier
Maya Angelou’s Autobiographical Series

Have you read any autobiographies? Which would you say is your favourite?

Next week I’ll tell you a little about writing across genres.


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