Book Review #23 - Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson

This autobiography of the late Cicely Tyson is a riveting and magnetic read. The great icon left this world on Jan 28th 2021, and unfortunately that was the day i was introduced to her. I never really knew of her or particularly followed her story, beyond noticing her in the media until the fateful day of her death, images and odes of her impactful life poured in on social media.

Now, after reading her book, i nurse a certain sadness of not knowing her when she was alive.

I'll approach this review by writing on six words that come to mind as i reflect on the Cicely's life as told by the book.

#1: Intentional: It starts with the name of the book. As simple as that title is, i do not think it is random. She brought herself bare to this book, and i can feel the essence of who she is (not was -because the dead still live in our hearts and the memories they left. behind). This woman; Cicely who had used her talent to deliberately pioneer proper representation of African American's on screen post - Jim Crow era.

An era where in capitalist media's usual fashion perpetuated harmful racial stereotypes to fatten their pockets, Ms. Cicely chose to deliberately only accept scripts she felt represented black people with dignity. There is a famous saying "there is a time to accumulate social capital, and there is a time to spend it" I loved how intentional she was about her brand, in using it to tell important stories, as well as raising others up. The amount of names she mentions in the book shows yet again how deliberate she is about using her platform to tell complete stories. The acknowledgements give hints to what she treasured.

#2: Authentic: Now, my sojourn begins beyond the book to connect to who she was, by watching her old movies, and with the lens of her life to see her journey afresh through documented media. I duff my hat to the co-writer; "Michelle Burford" who captured Ms Cicely's personality through tone, choice of words so consistent to what i've read and seen so far. Thank you.

That must not have been an easy feat. Cicely's essence was palpable through the words, and her authenticity through her life shone, even in her mistakes and misgivings, there was a sound knowledge in her awareness that her path is her own, and being herself was the only way to be. The reticent thumb sucking little girl who grew into the powerhouse that she always was, and the world eventually found her to be.

#3: Spiritual: I loved the fact that she didn't see the world as just a physical place. A recurring theme in the book is her spiritual sense, and her constant expression of the physical and spiritual world as two sides to a coin. I enjoyed that. She lived that. She stood firm in the love of God knowing that the Creator carved her path and all she had to do was walk in it.

#4: Wise: I use a kindle to read my books, and one way i know i connect deeply with a book is when i take a million (okay maybe not a million) notes, and highlights and also read the acknowledgements to the end. This was one of such. She dropped so many gems on life - some i already knew, others i definitely needed a reminder, and some - oh some that made me drop the book and breathe, to really take it in. The woman was 90 something years and you can tell through her words that she has seen life, and she truly lived it, taking the lessons her experiences offered and making it her own, now she offered it to us, cooked for us to eat and be nourished.

#5: Rich: I found no other word but this - Rich, and no i am not speaking about monetary wealth but only trying to capture the complexity of who she is. I found her essence rich, the many shades of her personality expressed, she was not perfect, and never claimed to be. Her personality captured the spectrum, from gentle to even wild. From reticent to commanding to room. I liked that she was a lot of things to a lot of people, and of all things, i hope she died with a soft smile on her face knowing that she lived a good, rich life full of joys and mistakes as i imagine life ought to be.

#6: HardWorking: If i had to pick another word it would be resilient. Discipline is also another hue. This word captures a few things. Her work ethic was second to none, and that only comes when you are your work, and your work is you in a way that it is a form of expression, a part of who you are, not just what you do.

Cicely lived vicariously through her characters and it didn't always come naturally, but she prepared so hard, and smart - it always looked like it came naturally. This amazing woman worked into her nineties, that is not a joke. (she shares her secret in the book, hint: minding your business helps).

She also is a resilient soul; so many things happened to her growing up, and yet with every fall she took a step after the other and found herself living such a glorious life.

Rest well, Cicely. Thank you for sharing yourself with us through your book - just as you are.

If i have to absolutely say it - yes, absolutely you must read the book.


Maria Ro


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