For the past few years, the theme for my composition classes has been language. Language and the many roles it plays in our lives and our society.
Although I change the structure of the course, along with the reading materials, every year, one thing remains constant. I always start the first week with a discussion on Maya Angelou‘s perception of language. I assign a few of her poems and her interview with The Paris Review (1990).
And every single time–every. single. time.– it leads to such insightful discussions in the class.
Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the interview that I use on my syllabus:
When I’m writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are,
what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go
on from darkness into darkness. I’m trying for that. But I’m also trying
for the language. I’m trying to see how it can really sound. I really love
language. I love it for what it does for us, how it allows us to explain
the pain and the glory, the nuances and the delicacies of our existence.
And then it allows us to laugh, allows us to show wit.
Real wit is shown in language. We need language.Maya Angelou, The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 119
When George Plimpton asks her: “If you had to endow a writer with the most necessary pieces of
equipment, other than, of course, yellow legal pads, what would these be?,” Angelou responds:
Ears. Ears. To hear the language. But there’s no one piece ofThe Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 119
equipment that is most necessary. Courage, first.
The best part of writing for Angelou? It’s language again:
Well, I could say the end. But when the language lends itself to me,
when it comes and submits, when it surrenders and says, I am yours,
darling—that’s the best part.
The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 119
And I’ll leave you with this powerful reminder:
I’d love to hear what you think: as a writer and a reader, how important is language to you?