The National Review Doesn't Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, But Erick Erickson Does

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If you read one conservative tribute to the late Maya Angelou — and given what's available you'll probably only want to read one — make it RedState editor Erick Erickson's personal and genuine essay "The Caged Bird Sang to Me." Erickson, unlike a number of right-leaning bloggers and some writers at The National Review, actually read her work. The problem isn't that they aren't fans, but that a bunch of bloggers thought the death of a great writer they didn't care about would be a good time to promote gun culture or mope about being called racist. 

Erickson disagreed with Angelou politically, but he'd "stand still on a hot bed of coals to hear her tell me she disagreed," he wrote. "I loved her mind and I loved her voice." It's not a perfect essay, but he acknowledges that "her writings helped me connect to others, other times, and issues I have had difficulty relating to," specifically the experience of a black woman growing up in the pre-Civil Rights South.

"An unexpected Maya Angelou fan," wrote David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo. "Not kidding: This is a delightful remembrance of Maya Angelou from Erick Erickson," wrote MSNBC's Adam Serwer. People were surprised — not because liberals think all conservatives are racists (they don't), but because yesterday proved that Erickson may be the only conservative blogger who appreciated her writing. For example: 

  • The National Review's Tim Cavanaugh's piece "R.I.P, Maya Angelou, Proud Gun Owner and User," describes Angelou's "On the Pulse of Morning" as a "slog," but less boring than some other presidential inauguration poems. Still, he was never a fan. "I will confess that Angelou’s writings did not generally keep me up reading all night," he wrote. In the fourth graph, Cavanaugh gets to his point — Angelou owned guns.
  • The National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez did praise her work — specifically the 2001 essay Angelou wrote about not having an abortion. "May her witness to courage and perseverance in love continue to help change lives, giving mothers (and fathers) inspiration," Lopez wrote.
  • "How many times better was Angelou than Shakespeare? I’m thinking five or six, but I don’t want to lowball it lest I offend anyone," joked The National Review's Charles C.W. Cooke.
  • "I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of hers," writes The National Review's Jonah Goldberg, before summarizing a Simpsons episode that parodied her.

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And The National Review wasn't alone. 

  • Sonny Bunch at the Washington Free Beacon also complained about people "mournshaming" him for writing about an author he'd never read and didn't really care about. "Again, I have no real opinion on her work or on her life, but it’d be nuts to argue that she wasn’t an icon," he wrote. 
  • Breitbart also zeroed in on the gun angle, citing the same Time interview as The National Review

To be clear, being white and not enjoying the poetry and novels of Maya Angelou doesn't make you a racist. But writing an obituary about someone even though you don't understand why anyone likes her work is silly. If you don't have anything meaning to say about a dead person you shouldn't be surprised when people call you out on it. Even Erick Erickson knew that.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.