Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.
Recently, in the hallowed halls of intellectualism known as the internet, a question was posed to a forum I frequent: “Who is your favorite philosopher?” Responses of the usual suspects, mostly white men poured in.
It’s an easy trap to fall into, versed as so many of us are in the basics of Western Philosophy. But there are contemporary alternatives that are often overlooked. Perhaps because they lack a rigorous theory of reality or some other puffed up notion of knowledge, or perhaps because they don’t fit the physical mold of a philosopher, such authors are praised as poets but left off the table when folks discuss the love of knowledge.
Thus, Maya Angelou wasn’t mentioned on that forum, but that day I realized there had been a major oversight in the musings of my fellows. If you are unaware of Ms. Angelou’s writing, stop doing what you’re doing (yes, even reading this post, it’ll be here when you get back, I promise), run to your nearest Library, and grab a copy — any copy — of her work.
Ms. Angelou doesn’t ask the question, “Do I exist?” but favors, “How do I live?” in its stead. Her soul is passionate, knowing the pains and joys of the complex connections we make and deal with while living on Earth.
“How did I get to be Maya Angelou?” she asks in the preface of Mom & Me & Mom. This is a question everyone would do well to ask, but it is Ms. Angelou who delivers with resonance that reaches across racial barriers, class divides, gender roles and norms. I say this as a young white man whose soul has been pierced and enriched by her influence. Though my life and hers are undoubtedly different, she reaches across social barriers to touch and inform my ways of being and knowing.
I’m not sure an argument for “Maya Angelou the Philosopher” would hold weight in a scholarly forum. Indeed, disdain for poets reaches far back in Western Philosophy (Plato kicked them out of his city in The Republic). Reading Maya Angelou makes one wish those two could meet and discuss what it is about life that poets reveal, and how they know just the same, if not more, than those who profess love of knowledge.
I think Ms. Angelou would say she loves life, and therefore should not be considered a philosopher. Indeed, she is better than that. A reader need only look at her vast catalog of cookbooks, picture books, poetry, essays and biography to know that they are dealing with a truly wise woman.