Talking to Maya Angelou


Editor’s Note: Dr. Maya Angelou joined the world of the ancestors on May 28th, 2014. In celebration of her life and work and in keeping with our mission, I thought it would be useful to ask several sex radical women, Akynos ShekeraAmanda Love and Dr. Loraine Hutchins, to share their thoughts about Dr. Angelou, who had among her many professional experiences worked as a Calypso singer, shake dancer, madame, and sex worker, highlighting this work and making connections to their own experience and work. The results were these wonderful articles. 

By Akynos Shekera

It’s a shame your stint as a madame, prostitute and shake dancer wasn’t as public as your writings before your passing. You could have set the tone and been the face of radical femininity and what that has always been. You could have articulated the grace and genius that radical femininity often times is in a society that insists that woman like us could never be—movers and shakers that can influence the world through our words, actions and being.

When I dug through the archives of your time in the sex trades, I noticed the negative tone in which it is treated. You’re even quoted as saying, “If you happen to fall into that sort of experience, what you have to do is forgive yourself.” I wish you were here to expand on that for me. Explain to me if you were specially speaking about sex work, using drugs or your time as a table dancer.

As a woman who is an adult entertainer taking my clothes off for a living, it annoys me when your past is labeled as sordid. Like all jobs sex work has its up and downs. We have ungrateful clients just as easily others people in other industries have ungrateful bosses who can be emotionally abusive or never thank you for all you’ve done to make their lives easier, happier, stress free.

I imagine myself speaking to you. I imagine you explaining that sex work isn’t any worse than working a minimum wage job and being unable to care for your family adequately. I imagine you talking about how vile our capitalist society is and how women using their bodies to fight poverty and earn a living to care for their families isn’t shameful labor, but labor that should be respected.

I relish in the belief that you knew that anyone can be forced into any form of labor and you shunned the idea that sexual labor should be criticized anymore than corporation executives making a fortune while their employees struggle to obtain their basic needs of survival.

Maya Angelou On BedYour work is the embodiment of how wild women can behave—seen and heard, fearless and strong. Multifaceted and daring enough to do what it takes to survive in a world that says single mothers are some sort of societal problem and that the Black woman is some sort of irreverent creature that births the problems of the world and barely, if at all, contributes to society.

Your time as a shake dancer has proven that a woman half naked on a stage, gyrating her hips and releasing the tension that the world has bared upon her doesn’t make her a societal misfit, but a woman who dares to just be. Be whatever she is and still be articulate and outspoken. Still have a life long influence on the current culture and the ones to come. Your life has shown light on everything positive that our culture deems as vices only appropriate when hidden and never spoken about in polite spaces. Your work has emphasized the power that language holds and how it can shape lives.

Words inspired you to speak when you didn’t have a voice because of the sexual assault that happened to you. Who would you be without your experiences?  If all the things that you endured didn’t take place how would you have had the voice necessary to make such an impact? How could I now strive to be like you for my community? It would be virtually impossible. Your time here shows all the beauty that can come from pain and hardship. And as so many mourn your permanent absence from this world, others like me celebrate the time you lived and the inspiration that you’ve left us, which will live on forever.