In 1969, at the age of 41, Maya Angelou, who died on May 28 at age 86 in Winston-Salem, N.C., published I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It was a memoir of her childhood and adolescent odyssey from Arkansas to California, during which she survived a cascade of traumatic events, including being raped by her mother's boyfriend at age seven and overcoming prejudice to become, at age 16, San Francisco's first black streetcar conductor.
In the United States, freedom of speech - even the most outrageously shocking speech - is a cherished right, though most of us probably aren't quick to think of poetry as a form of speech that needs protecting. It's been a long, long time since anyone tried to put an American in jail for publishing a poem. That may make it hard for us to truly appreciate the artistic bravery of Nguyen Chi Thien, who spent nearly a quarter century behind bars because he defiantly insisted on composing verses that irreverently criticized his nation's authoritarian regime.
Search AARP Blogs