My first exposure to Maya Angelou is one I'm not particularly proud of. I was in AP English Literature in my senior year of high school, the only high school class I ever had that was taught as college-style academia rather than spoon-fed fact dumping.
There were a lot of books to read, and one of them was I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.
I didn't read it. It's no one's fault but my own. I'm not sure there was ever a test on it or anything. I don't remember anything about it other than it was assigned, and I ignored the assignment. There were other, edgier titles that appealed more to my eighteen year old self: 1984. Lord of the Flies. Heart of Darkness.
When I got a bit older and became a teacher myself, I decided to revisit the books I'd neglected in my high school years. That's when I read Angelou for the first time.
Even as an adult she mystified me. Her writing was so unlike most of the voices I'd heard, so unlike my own writing, so unlike the things I usually read. A genuinely unique voice, painting a word picture of another time, another place, another gender, and another life. It felt like something honestly new and different.
It makes me sad that her voice is gone from this world, because with her passing we lose so many potential stories that no one could have told but her.
I'm torn. I feel like I was lucky to have read her as an adult, but even if you're a teenager, I'd still recommend picking it up now. She's gone, but her stories remain. That's part of what makes stories so powerful, and it's worth it to be part of Angelou's story by letting her - even now - pass it on to you.