Top-down image of Maya Angelou's Meteor 12 typewriter on display at the American Writers Museum

Typewriter Tuesday: Maya Angelou

Welcome to Typewriter Tuesday, a new series from the American Writers Museum that aims to shed light on the typewriters and other tools behind some of your favorite works of literature. Check back every Tuesday to learn more about these trusty machines and the writers who used them. Our next special exhibit Tools of the Trade, opening June 2019, features more than a dozen typewriters on loan from Steve Soboroff’s impressive collection, as well as other writing implements and instruments used by American writers. Today, we explore Maya Angelou’s writing process and her 1980 Adler Meteor 12.

Maya Angelou's 1980 Adler Meteor 12 will be on display in our upcoming Tools of the Trade exhibit opening June 2019.
Maya Angelou’s 1980 Adler Meteor 12 will be on display in our upcoming Tools of the Trade exhibit opening June 2019.

“I really love language. I love it for what it does for us, how it allows us to explain the pain and the glory, the nuances and delicacies of our existence. And then it allows us to laugh, allows us to show wit. Real wit is shown in language. We need language.”

-Maya Angelou

And for us to express language, we need tools, like Maya Angelou’s 1980 Adler Meteor 12, pictured above. This typewriter will be displayed alongside many other writing instruments in our forthcoming Tools of the Trade exhibit, opening June 2019. Featuring vintage typewriters used by well-known writers, as well as fountain pens, inkwells, and even a braille writer, Tools of the Trade celebrates the writing instruments that are vital to the writer and their process.

In addition to this typewriter, Angelou used a variety of other writing tools throughout her process. First and foremost, she always kept a hotel room, paying for it by the month, where she would go to write. She allowed hotel staff to enter only to empty wastebaskets and asked that all paintings be removed from the walls so she had a clear room to think in. From an interview with George Plimpton in the Paris Review:

“I go into the room and I feel as if all my beliefs are suspended. Nothing holds me to anything. No milkmaids, no flowers, nothing. I just want to feel and then when I start to work I’ll remember.”

A clear space often allows for a clear mind, and when Angelou went to write in the hotel room she brought with her only the essentials: yellow legal pads, Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary, the Bible, and a bottle of sherry. This, her writing toolbox. The typewriter would likely come into play later, during the revision process.

Maya Angelou's 1980 Adler Meteor 12 will be on display in our upcoming Tools of the Trade exhibit opening June 2019.

This specific typewriter used by Angelou was purchased in 2015 in her estate sale by Steve Soboroff, who has a vast collection of vintage typewriters used by famous writers, many of which will be on display in Tools of the Trade. While Angelou would write first by hand, Soboroff expects this typewriter remained at her home and she would revise her handwritten work on it. Angelou’s grandson, Colin Johnson, reiterated this fact in an interview with the Winston-Salem Journal. “My grandmother never moved past the typewriter and pen and paper,” he said. “The only thing she did on [her] laptop was play Boggle. Then Oprah got her an iPad, and she played Boggle on that.”

Maya Angelou’s writing process might have been eccentric, and her Boggle skills likely formidable, but, as her body of work attests to, her process was clearly effective. It would bring her from a hotel bed with yellow legal pads spread out and a glass of sherry in hand, to this very typewriter pictured here as she revised the day’s words and thoughts. All the while, this process and her work an attempt to better understand the human condition and share it with the world, so that we might try to understand it too.

“When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I’m trying for that.”

-Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou's 1980 Adler Meteor 12 will be on display in our upcoming Tools of the Trade exhibit opening June 2019.

See this typewriter and more in June when Tools of the Trade opens. Learn more here and be sure to follow our blog and check back weekly for more typewriter fun!