Let’s talk about last Saturday: I woke up around the crack of dawn, got myself ready and was out of the house by 8 a.m. I took two trains from my home in sort-of-South Brooklyn through Manhattan and into Central Harlem, a neighborhood I had explored exactly once before. Then, I walked down tree-lined, brownstone-inhabited streets, across Malcolm X Boulevard, onto 120th Street.
I stopped in front of a house bearing a “for sale” sign.
Absolutely nothing about the sign would lead you to believe that this townhouse is selling for nearly $5 million, that it’s a spacious and lovely single-family home and that it used to belong to Maya Angelou.
That’s right — as you probably guessed by the title, that is a photo of Maya Angelou’s Harlem home. I won’t give you all the details about what it looks like inside or the sale itself because I would hate to spoil my article, but let’s just talk for a second about: guys. I stood in Maya Angelou’s home.
Stood on the same floor that she and Oprah Winfrey trod upon. Rode the elevator she used to take from floor to floor. Snapped a photo of her kitchen. Gazed at the non-functional fireplace in her personal library — Maya Angelou’s personal library.
Here’s where I need to make a confession: I didn’t grow up reading her works. In fact, I haven’t read any of her books in their entirety. I was raised on a steady diet of Christian romance, not classic literature, so my appreciation for this home is not as great as it could have been.
But there’s something so inspiring for a writer and journalist to stand in the home of a literary great.
The journalist in me thrilled at the access — to step inside this home that will soon be in the possession of a very lucky family, that belonged to such a huge figure, to speak with the broker and ask important questions and walk up the staircase, my feet sinking into the soft carpet that Angelou’s own feet touched…I mean, it’s a dream. It’s one of the reasons I love journalism; it’s the real-life version of those “choose your own adventure” board games. Every day is a new experience, a breath of what a different life would be like.
Last fall, I got to visit Baltimore and see how women there were shaping their city. Later, I explored a portion of the Bronx and witnessed young girls falling in love with science. In March, I went on a ghost tour of the East Village for a story. Saturday I went to Maya Angelou’s home.
There are stories after stories like this that just excite me so much. And of course every day won’t be thrilling; every day hasn’t been thrilling. But when I’m tempted to be overcome by the stress and the politics and the eternal tug-of-war between PR and journalism, I’ll remember moments like this and hold onto them tightly. These are the moments that remind me why I do what I do.
Meanwhile, as I looked around the spacious foyer, I stumbled upon an idea for a novel. I haven’t got it all hammered out, but it involves adoption, Maya Angelou and the ways in which literature can change lives.
Because I firmly believe that it can. Books can go so far in helping someone. There’s the idea of being able to relate to someone else, that eye-opening moment when a kid first realizes that others can understand them. There’s the element of escaping a painful situation for a better one. There’s the idea of being inspired by the actions of a fictional hero to do real-life greatness.
Literature is amazing, and I can’t wait for the day that I get to be a part of changing lives with words.
That’s what I got out of visiting Maya Angelou’s. I learned that life is an adventure and that words are powerful. I remembered that our impacts will reverberate long after we’re gone. I realized that sometimes simple signs hide great beauty.
And it gave me a great opportunity to snap a pic in front of a celebrity’s home.