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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya…

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (original 1969; edition 1983)

by Maya Angelou

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8,498137362 (3.96)1 / 355
Title:I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Authors:Maya Angelou
Info:Bantam (1983), Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1969)


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English (135)  Dutch (2)  All languages (137)
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Trigger Warnings: Racism, Violence, Murder, Lynching, Graphic Language, Rape

This memoir of Maya Angelo's first sixteen years follows the poet from her roots in Stamps, Arkansas, to her youth in California, focusing on the major pieces of her life that made the poet such a galvanizing force.

I know that most kids read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings in high school, but I never did, so it seemed about time. Reading this now, I have a feeling that I would never have understood or cared about this book had I read it at a younger age. There's something here that would absolutely strike a chord in black readers, but for me, I wouldn't have understood the difficulties in Maya's upbringing as a black girl between the 1920 and 1950s. I still can't know, really, the intensity of her struggles. The fear she felt as a young girl when faced with whitefolk; or the amount of courage it took to fight for months to be the first black woman conductorette; are things I cannot understand.

What struck me the most in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is how Angelou never fails to point out the people who supported her through her tumultuous childhood. Modern feminist literature takes a more navel-gazing, internalized look at things: family, friendships and relationships are mentioned but authors only really delve into who people are in relation to the narrator. Angelou does not do this with her family; each person is fleshed out as their own being. We hear things about them that do not have much to do with Angelou. But knowing the people in her life helps the reader to better understand Angelou herself. We learn about who she is not just by what she says, but how she says it--We know she was wildly smart because she says she went ot mostly white schools outside of her community; and we know she's cares deeply about her entire family, because she talks about them outside of herself.

There's another reason Angelou talks about other people's stories within her own though--she's also describing, as fully as she possibly can based on what she's lived through, the black experience. White women attempt to call her Mary instead of her real name, Marguerite, because her real name is too long to say; she sits with her stepfather as his friends regale her with how they con white folks out of money and property (the only real way they can feel powerful and able to 'get one over' on their supressors); her brother is forced to help dispose of a lynched man's body by order of a racist white man; and Africa seems like a fantasy world, and unreal place that they couldn't have possible come from. The mental and physical abuse are still wildly prevalent in today's world; most prominently are the attacks on black men, women, and children that have incited the #BlackLivesMatter movement; and the incident in which a reporter attempted to call Quvenzahne Wallis "Annie".

Even if you've read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings in high school, I highly recommend reading it again. In the midst of #BlackLivesMatter and the racism still prevalent and terrifyingly, on the rise, in the United States, Angelou's memoir is a reminder to everyone of how far we still have to go. ( )
  Rituleen | May 10, 2016 |
Although many of her admirers would be shocked at my rating, I must be honest. This was a boring read. True, her life was not an easy road and she rose above it to become a well-respected writer, poet, and mentor of many women I just expected something different I guess. Have to admit I started skimming pages especially the stories about revivals in the tents. I might be a bit jaded having read too many stories about childhood horrors. I was glad when I finished. ( )
  debbie-1955 | May 7, 2016 |
I just finished reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings for the first time, at age 23. I feel that in not making this required reading, the public school system failed me in a terrible way. This autobiography of Angelou’s childhood and adolescence was outstanding. It was funny, heartbreaking, moving and inspirational.

Maya (Marguerite) and her older brother Bailey spent most of their childhood under the care of their grandmother and uncle in Stamps, Alabama, where they helped run the family general store. Their parents, who lived in St. Louis and later California, moved in and out of their lives only on occasion.

As a Black girl in the South in the ’30s-’40s, Maya faces plenty of hardships, including racial segregation and outright hatred of Black people. She is denied treatment by a white dentist, she and her grandmother endure insults from white children. In California, when she’s a teenager, she is initially refused a job as a streetcar driver because she is Black (only after extreme persistence over the course of a few weeks is she finally handed an application). Furthermore, when she is only eight years old, Maya is raped by her mother’s boyfriend in St. Louis, and afterward she is simply sent back to Stamps. Her mother—and even more so her father—is an impermanent aspect of her life.

Despite all this—or perhaps because of it—Maya’s story is a triumphant one, and there are joyful moments and funny anecdotes throughout. Her pride in “her people,” as she says, is palpable. I nearly cried when, during Maya’s graduation, her class and the audience began to sing the “Negro national anthem” after being insulted and belittled by a white speaker. It was a very powerful moment. Maya is smart and hardworking, and she loves to read. She is also simply a child observing the strangeness of life, and as she grows she slowly learns that society and people can be cruel and unfair. She also learns how to rise above.

"We were on top again. As always, again. We survived. The depths had been icy and dark, but now a bright sun spoke to our souls. I was no longer simply a member of the proud graduating class of 1940; I was a proud member of the wonderful, beautiful Negro race." ( )
  blackrabbit89 | May 6, 2016 |
I quite appreciated getting to know the details of Maya Angelou's early life. The hardships endured in the time as a woman of color is something to be considered by those in this generation who know little about the real happenings of life and the necessity of one's power to endure.
This story was told in first person as experienced by young Maya Angelou herself, and adds nicely to even deeper understanding of how she perceived her life as a young girl. ( )
  StephLaymon | May 1, 2016 |
In this first of Angelou's memoirs, Maya and her brother Bailey are sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, AR, when they are young children. They are raised in a strict but loving home and are aware, even at their tender ages, of the prejudices all around them. The children would sporadically live with their mother in St. Louis, their father in California and ultimately with their mother when she too moved to California. Both children were avid readers and excellent students. Maya's love for the written word would be her lifelong passion.

Although there were many instances of sadness, prejudice and even abuse, there was also a good deal of humor. The trip to Mexico with her father was quite funny as a 15-year-old Maya decided to drive her father's Hudson back to California, never mind that she had never driven a car before, with a drunk Daddy in the back seat. After crashing into another car at the border guard station and witnesses noticed the body on the back seat the incident nearly became criminal.

Maya spent a month living in a junk yard car, fought to become the first black allowed to work on city streetcars, and became pregnant at age 16. All of these things might have crushed a young girl's dreams, but Maya embraced all of her experiences into the woman she would become. I highly recommend this book, especially the audio read by Maya Angelou; it was stellar. ( )
  Ellen_R | Apr 6, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Maya Angelouprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rutten, KathleenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is dedicated to my son
Guy Johnson,
and all the strong black birds of promise who defy the odds and gods and sing their songs
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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James Baldwin Writes:

This testimony from a Black sister marks the beginning of a new era in the minds and hearts and lives of all Black men and women...
I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS liberates the reader into life simply because Maya Angelou confronts her own life with such a moving wonder, such a luminous dignity. I have no words for this achievement, but I know that not since the days of my childhood, when the people in books were more real than the people one saw every day, have I found myself so moved ...
her portrait is a Biblical study of life in the midst of death."

The Moving and Beautiful autobiography of a talented black woman. She continues her story in gather together in GATHER TOGETHER IN MY NAME, SINGIN' AND SWINGIN' AND GETTIN' MERRY LIKE CHRISTMAS and THE HEART OF A WOMAN.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553279378, Mass Market Paperback)

In this first of five volumes of autobiography, poet Maya Angelou recounts a youth filled with disappointment, frustration, tragedy, and finally hard-won independence. Sent at a young age to live with her grandmother in Arkansas, Angelou learned a great deal from this exceptional woman and the tightly knit black community there. These very lessons carried her throughout the hardships she endured later in life, including a tragic occurrence while visiting her mother in St. Louis and her formative years spent in California--where an unwanted pregnancy changed her life forever. Marvelously told, with Angelou's "gift for language and observation," this "remarkable autobiography by an equally remarkable black woman from Arkansas captures, indelibly, a world of which most Americans are shamefully ignorant."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:44 -0400)

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Presents the story of a spirited and gifted, but poor, black girl growing up in the South in the 1930's. Tells how she came into her own, experiencing prejudice, family difficulties, and a relationship with a teacher who taught her to respect books, learning, and herself. The moving and beautiful autobiography of a talented black woman. "I have no words for this achievement, but I know that not since the days of my childhood have I found myself so moved. Her portrait is a Biblical study of life in the midst of death".-James Baldwin.… (more)

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