Day 583: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Cover for I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsThe picture on the cover of my old copy of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings shows an angry and dignified woman, and in some ways this is an angry memoir. Although I’m sure this anger helped sustain Maya Angelou during a difficult life and pushed her to make significant advances for herself and her people, I hope she became happier later. She earned it.

This book is the powerful story of the first 16 years of Maya Angelou’s life. She and her brother Bailey were raised by their grandmother in the small town of Stamps, Arkansas, after being sent there alone on a train from California at the ages of three and four by their parents. Much of the book deals with her upbringing by a strict and religious, somewhat reserved but caring grandmother in the racially segregated South.

Although life in Stamps was no picnic, her brief visit to her mother in St. Louis when she was eight was disastrous. There she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. That was not the only event in her life that could have proved catastrophic.

Angelou speaks with raw transparency about the feelings of insecurity that she battled through her girlhood, a combination of her treatment by whites and her own feelings of unattractiveness. In her younger years she was saved by her love of reading, later by her own dignity and will to succeed.

This book is deeply involving and at the same time sometimes disturbing reading. I was brought to tears at the description of Angelou’s nearly ruined graduation, not when the pompous white guest speaker put the class in its place, but by how the valedictorian rescued the occasion. I was thrilled when Angelou’s perseverance won her a position, at the age of 15, as the first African-American cable car employee of San Francisco.

I think this story of pride and dignity against bigotry is inspiring for anyone.

4 thoughts on “Day 583: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

  1. Naomi September 19, 2014 / 11:59 am

    I have heard bits and pieces of her story before, but sometime I would like to sit down and read about it. Nice review!

    • whatmeread September 19, 2014 / 12:07 pm

      Thanks! I first read this book years ago but couldn’t remember much about it.

  2. Cecilia September 19, 2014 / 12:50 pm

    Really looking forward to this one especially after the news of her death this year.

    • whatmeread September 19, 2014 / 12:52 pm

      I think that’s why my book club picked it to read. I read it long ago but barely remembered it.

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