The Corner

‘It’s All for You’

I’ve been writing about that teacher in inner-city Sacramento who refuses to teach Shakespeare to her students — because he’s just a “dead white male,” and they are “diverse,” and he cannot possibly “speak to” them.

Earlier today, I wrote,

There is a story I hope to heck is true, because I’ve been repeating it for years. Apparently, Maya Angelou once said, “When I was young, I thought that Shakespeare must have been a black girl. How else could he know exactly how I felt?”

Readers have led me to confirmatory sources — thank heaven (and them).

This article recounts an appearance by Angelou at Randolph College in 2013. (The college is in Lynchburg, Va.) Angelou

recalled a time when she read all of the books shelved in the modest library of her hometown. Although she did not claim to understand everything she read at the time, Angelou said that Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 was one of her favorites.

That is the sonnet that goes, “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, / I all alone beweep my outcast state, / And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries, / And look upon myself, and curse my fate . . .”

Reading through [Shakespeare’s] work, she was startled by how much it spoke to her own experience.

“I didn’t care what they told me,” Angelou said. “I was convinced that he was a little black girl.”

Poetry has the power to unite cultures, generations and diversities, according to Angelou, and is a fundamental reason behind the survival of the human race.

“The poetry was written for you,” Angelou said. “It’s all for you.”

When Angelou was a girl — twelve and a half — she wanted to read the Quality of Mercy speech at a church meeting. (This is Portia in The Merchant of Venice: “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven / Upon the place beneath . . .”) But her mother prevented her from doing it, because the author, Shakespeare, was white.

Young Maya burned. (To read about this, go here.)

Later, “I found myself, and still find myself, whenever I like, stepping back into Shakespeare. Whenever I like, I pull him to me. He wrote it for me.”

I’m quoting from a speech she gave, in 1985, I believe. She recites Sonnet 29 — and continues,

“Of course he wrote it for me; that is a condition of the black woman. Of course he was a black woman. I understand that. Nobody else understands it, but I know that William Shakespeare was a black woman.”

Now, Angelou does not mean this in some Jenner/Dolezal way. She means: He gets it. Boy, does he.

And as I say in my column today, those students in Sacramento — the ones taught by the woman who refuses to teach Shakespeare — are some of the unluckiest students in all the world.


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