Maya Angelou’s poem Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, accompanied by Basquiat’s contemporary art, makes for a picture book that is appropriate for fearless children and adults looking to rekindle their courage. Angelou is a renowned poet, novelist, playwright and civil rights activist. Her work includes I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. Jean-Michel Basquiat was an artist and a poet during his short life of twenty-seven years. He began drawing from the age of four and twenty years later, in 1984, his work was exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Angelou’s poem is accessible to people of every age, gender, and culture and is written in a child-like manner that flows easily when read aloud. The poem is simple and confident. Angelou emphasizes bravery when she repeats “Life doesn’t frighten me at all/ Not at all/ Not at all.” Her inspiring words put life’s worries into perspective, telling the reader that nothing and no one can frighten them against their will. “Don’t show me frogs and snakes/ And listen for my screams,/ If I am afraid at all/ It’s only in my dreams.”
Upon first inspection, Basquiat’s paintings are similarly child-like. He was of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent and grew up in Brooklyn, where he acquired an appreciation for art and music after his mother enrolled him as a Junior Member of the Brooklyn Museum. As an indigenous graffitist, his work meshes complex ideas with primitive images and brilliant colors. His art is distracting at first, bordering on disturbing, but gradually, just like in our own childhoods, we outgrow our fears and nightmares so that the images that once frightened us fade as we’re desensitized to their abrupt lack of conventional beauty and sharpness. The illustrations become less and less threatening, finally ending with one of Basquiat’s flower paintings and the peace of mind that comes with knowing that “Life doesn’t frighten me at all.”
Maya Angelou Jean-Michel Basquiat Stewart, Tabori & Chang