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Maya Angelou, The Importance of Literature and Voices That Empower

03/06/2014 12:11 BST | Updated 02/08/2014 10:59 BST

The dust is starting to settle on the passing of Maya Angelou and the legacy of a lady who not only survived, but thrived through 86 years of incarnation on this planet. Dr Angelou encountered events in her life that included sexual abuse that triggered years of her being a mute, teenage pregnancy, time as a sex worker and dealing with racial prejudice all before a long and inspiring career of being a source of creative expression as a performer, writer, poet, professor, activist and mentor to many, with 55 doctorates no less.

The early years of Maya Angelou's life story was captured in "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" - an empowering testament to the importance of honesty and speaking our truth.

Writing can be an outlet to quench the thirst of needing to release, not only the pats of us we wish we could make disappear but it can allow us a space to be the version of ourselves we aspire to be. Just as education and books of literature can teach and inform, evoke emotion, empower and spread light and knowledge it can also influence us in shaping our future. As a young woman growing up with aunts and cousins as bookworms and subsequent teachers and educators Toni Morrison, Andrea Levy and Maya Angelou, were almost like family friends. They helped to shape the identity of the women in my family and offered a comfort and counsel.

At a time when Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird being dropped from new English literature GCSEs in favour of British writers it begs the question of what is deemed as 'worthy' when considering the education of young people.

Granted, I remember reading Of Mice and Men and struggling at times, English education at GCSE level being limited to only a Eurocentric perspective doesn't allow for the young people to see life through the eyes of the world and the idea of limiting choice to 20th century British text, essentially flies in the face of literary output from other parts of the world.

American novels and books written by non-British authors, that document tales of fiction and non fiction are as valid are as the likes of Shakespeare, although it can be argued fiction often doesn't quite embody the same level of encouragement.

Timeless works by the likes of Maya Angelou are timeless for a reason, crossing gender, culture and age and can offer a type of insight and understanding only available by getting lost in beautifully poetic text, hearing the accents of the characters, understanding their emotion through carefully posed metaphors and feeling the triumph in their story with the knowing this really happened. They did, so I can too. I work with young people and know now more than ever they are in need of as much inspiration as possible and books as a source of this, and the most diverse, the better.