42 pages 1 hour read

Maya Angelou

Letter to My Daughter

Nonfiction | Essay Collection | Adult | Published in 1987

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


Inspired by over 20 years of notes written to her friend Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou composed Letter to My Daughter. Published in 2009 as the third book in a series of essays, Letter would eventually become a New York Times Bestseller. This creative take on an autobiography consists of short essays and poems depicting the life adventures of Maya Angelou. Dedicating the work to the thousands of women who view her as a mother figure, Angelou shares an intimate account of her upbringing.


In the Prologue, Angelou dedicates her letter to the daughter she never birthed but whom she sees in everyone. She tells the reader, “You will find in this book accounts of growing up, unexpected emergencies, a few poems, some light stories to make you laugh and some to make you meditate” (5). Angelou writes that she has “thousands of daughters” regardless of race, religion, sexuality, etc. (6).

Angelou was born in St. Louis, Missouri but raised in Stamps, Arkansas. She moved around often, having lived in San Francisco, New York City, Paris, Cairo, and West Africa. Despite constant movement, Angelou believes that one never truly leaves home. Everyone “carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and dragons of home under one’s skin” (6). This inner sense of home stems from the innate child in all of us yearning for security and safety from the unpredictable outside world.

Angelou spends the bulk of the work unraveling her maternal relationships—especially her unconventional relationship with her mother. Her grandmother, Annie Henderson, raised Angelou in Arkansas until she turned 13, when she moved into her mother’s home in San Francisco. Angelou describes her grandmother as simple and old-fashioned, whereas her mother, Vivian Baxter, was modern and progressive. This adjustment was jarring for a young Angelou, who clung to her Christian hymns in the midst of her mother’s blaring jazz records. Angelou would eventually form a loving relationship with her mother, who reinforced Angelou’s confidence as she aged. As a six-foot tall, flat-chested young woman, Angelou had never been called beautiful. Her mother told Angelou, “Baby, I’ve been thinking and now, I am sure. You are the greatest woman I’ve ever met” (21). Her mother’s kind words persuaded Angelou that she could make something of her life.

Angelou chronicles the way racism impacted her budding career. She details an evening at the American Film Institute when she was asked to give an introductory speech. As she sat, surrounded by the people who shaped her views on romance and dignity, memories of the segregated movie house in Arkansas filled her mind. Upon taking the stage, Angelou forgot her speech entirely and was instead filled with anger. Afraid of what she might say, Angelou muttered a few words and hurried off the stage. Angelou also recalls the time she facilitated conversation between white and Black students at the recently desegregated Wake Forest University. Angelou ushers in a new generation of students, equipping them with the vocabulary and awareness to communicate effectively and begin healing the racial divide.

Over the course of Letter, Angelou also shares her opinion on violence and vulgarity, her successful relationships along with her failed ones, and her struggles with mental health. She ends the book with her return to Christianity, sharing her ever-evolving relationship with God. For Angelou, being a Christian—or belonging to any religious tradition—is a lifelong endeavor. It is in the continued cultivation of one’s relationship with God that joy is found. Whenever Angelou begins to question God’s existence and love for her, she looks to the heavens and sees her grandmother.