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Maya Angelou shares life's lessons in 'Letter to My Daughter'

Published October 9, 2008 at 7 p.m.

* Nonfiction. By Maya Angelou. Random House, $25. Grade: A

Book in a nutshell: Ten years after the publication of her last original work, esteemed author, poet and playwright Angelou shares lessons from her long and illustrious life in a collection of spellbinding essays on everything from the loveless sex that resulted in her greatest gift ever - the birth of her son - to posthumous tributes to civil rights activist Coretta Scott King and Cuban singer Celia Cruz.

For those who long to hear Angelou's poetic voice, she throws in a few verses as well on poetry itself and even a commencement address in which she reminds graduates:

One person, with good purpose

can, constitute the majority.

Since life is our most precious

And since it is given to us to live but once,

Let us so live that we will not regret

Years of uselessness and inertia

Best tidbit: Despite all the awards and acclaim, Angelou admits to still doubting her abilities. "When I decide to write anything, I get caught up in my insecurity despite the prior accolades," she confesses. "I think, uh, uh, now they will know I am a charlatan that I really cannot write and write really well. I am almost undone."

Pros: Whether recalling a brutal beating at the hands of an old lover, delivering an admonition against vulgarity ("Politicians must be told if they continue to sink into the mud of obscenity, they will proceed alone") or simply singing the praises of the South and red beans and rice, Angelou delivers with her signature passion and fire. These are short essays that are easy to take in during brief moments of quiet; yet, each delivers a powerful message.

Cons: Are there ever any cons to Maya Angelou?

Final word: Although she gave birth to only one son, Angelou points out that she has "thousands of daughters" all around her and this tiny tome is her gift to them all - and what a gift it is.

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