"I memorised poetry at that time as young people today buy tapes. Whenever I wanted to amuse myself I would just reel up one of the poems or one of Shakespeare's sonnets. I was quite sure that Shakespeare wrote for me - I still do! But it was during a time when I was mute and reading was all there was and listening. I was inspired by the black American music, by the spirituals and gospels.
So the great influences on my life were the music, black
American literature and English literature. They formed
my love really of the spoken word. I've used it as a crutch,
I've used it as a skateboard (laughs) and if I had the
nerve of Pegasus I'd use it as wings. "
The experience of being silent, listening carefully and reading at every opportunity helped to develop Angelou's ear for dialogue, for the rhythms and power of language as it is written, spoken and sung.
Maya's autobiographical writings have been linked to the tradition
of black slave narratives and Angelou herself identifies her
writing with this tradition. She uses the idioms and vocabulary
to capture the texture of Southern Black Life:
"I am following a tradition of slave narrative which is black southern story telling. It was created as a form by Frederick Douglas in the late 1840's in his Slave Narrative. I think all black American Literature comes directly out of the standards he set. He wrote so beautifully. And in speaking of himself, he spoke of all slaves."