‘Steady Going Up’ by Maya Angelou

Steady Going Up by Maya Angelou, 1972

The magic trick:

Starting the conflict, then filling in backstory, then returning to the action

Good format here.

Establish potential conflict and danger.

Then pause and explain the scene and the protagonist’s backstory.

Then return to the action and up the conflict.

Simple and effective. And that’s quite a trick on Angelou’s part. (Kudos too for the geographical specifics of the bus heading to Cincinnati and safety, recalling the history of American slavery and literary touchstones Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Beloved.)

The selection:

“Son! Why don’t you go back to your seat?”

He looked directly at her and saw her caring about him.

“While you was asleep, them two white men was talking about you. They turned around and looked at you and said something, then they moved to the last seat in the White section. They been drinking.”

Robert said, “I don’t know them, and, Miss, I ain’t running from nobody. I mean, ain’t nobody out looking for me. But . . .”

The woman said, “I didn’t say you was running, I’m just telling you that they trash and when trash git inside them, what you think that add up to?”

There wasn’t nothing Robert could say to that; he realized that the woman was trying to look after him. “Yes, ma’am. Thank you. I’ll go on back to my seat.”

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