She was an unlikely candidate for literary success. Raped at 7 by her mother’s boyfriend; mute for years afterward; a single mother at 17; a performer at a strip joint and operator of a brothel. Marguerite Johnson could easily have slid into nameless, faceless poverty, part of the neighborhoods and communities many of us ignore driving to and from work, major league sports events, or cultural attractions.
But she reinvented herself, not once but many times. She went on stage, as a singer and actress. She changed her name. She became involved with the civil rights movement. She knew Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King, and Malcolm X. She reinvented herself again with a memoir in 1969, one that turned her into an eminence in the literary world, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
In 1993, the little girl who was raped in a poor neighborhood in St. Louis would stand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and recite a poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” for President Bill Clinton’s inauguration.
To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.