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Sent by their mother to live with their devout self sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town Maya and her brother Bailey endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local powhitetrash At eight years old and back at her. Maya Angelou was a poet and Nobel laureate who once gave an address at President Clinton s inauguration Before she won her multitudes of awards and honors Maya was raised in rural Stamps Arkansas by her grandmother and uncle during the depression First published in 1969 and now considered a modern classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings details Angelou s tumultuous childhood in poignant detail Born Marguerite Johnson and often called Ritie Maya and her older brother Bailey were taken to live with their grandmother at young ages following their parents divorce Even though the south was still in the throes of Jim Crow and Stamps was at the forefront of segregation young Maya appeared to enjoy a loving childhood Raised by a strict church going grandmother and uncle Maya and Bailey turned to both books and each other for comfort Devouring books like candy both children uickly advanced through the Stamps educational system two grades ahead of schedule When Maya was eight and Bailey nine their father came to Arkansas and brought them to live with their mother in St Louis Coming from a multi racial family members of Maya s maternal family were light skinned enough to pass for white and some integrated into the German community It was in St Louis a city that should have afforded Maya opportunities than rural Stamps that she experienced the low point in her childhood Physically abused by her mother s fianc Maya recovered and returned to Stamps and a loving environment She and Bailey continued to live with their grandmother until they had advanced beyond what the education system offered them in the segregated south With no future other than a house servant or cotton picker the two were returned to their mother now living in desegregated California While in California Maya experienced highs and lows as well as Jim Crow rearing its ugly head the low point of which was living in a car in a junk yard for a month These experiences including being reunited with both parents and establishing relationships with them made for events that Maya could reflect on later on in life in this volume I find it extraordinary that Maya could overcome being abused as a young child and still manage to graduate school two years ahead of schedule at a high academic level This is a testament to her grandmother as well as her personal fabric This fabric lead her to be the first colored streetcar operator in San Francisco and later on the poet laureate that people recognize to this day Maya Angelou noted her writing influences as Langston Hughes Paul Laurence Dunbar as well as Booker T Washington who encouraged a generation of African Americans to achieve employment through a stellar education In her dedication Angelou also cites her parents as being positive influences in her life after they reconciled A gifted author and poet who was advanced well beyond her years as a child Maya graced us with her powerful prose in all of her works of literature A poignant look into a childhood in the Jim Crow I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings reveals the upbringing of a remarkable American woman A courageous glimpse into Angelou s life this first memoir of hers easily merits 5 bright stars

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Mother’s side in St Louis Maya is attacked by a man many times her age and has to live with the conseuences for a lifetime Years later in San Francisco Maya learns that love for herself the kindness of others her own strong spirit and. Caged BirdA free bird leapson the back of the windand floats downstreamtill the current endsand dips his wingin the orange sun raysand dares to claim the skyBut a bird that stalksdown his narrow cagecan seldom see throughhis bars of ragehis wings are clipped andhis feet are tiedso he opens his throat to singThe caged bird singswith a fearful trillof things unknownbut longed for stilland his tune is heardon the distant hillfor the caged birdsings of freedom The above poem by Maya Angelou not from this book BTW encapsulates in a few lines why the voices of protest are the loudest and the literature the most powerful when it is forcefully suppressed Because the only thing the caged bird can do is sing he will keep on doing it lest he go mad Poetry will keep on flowing out of the decapitated head of OrpheusI understand that this book has been banned multiple times Not surprising considering that the words of the poet have power than swords or bullets as proved time and again by history Maya Angelou born Marguerite Johnson and her brother Bailey were sent to live with their paternal grandmother in Stamps Arkansas when their parents marriage fell apart It was the early thirties and the North and the South of USA were poles apart as far as coloured people were concerned in the North they were part of the society albeit an insular one while in the South they were the despised niggers Maya spent most of the formative part of her childhood down south Her grandmother Momma was a singularly resourceful woman who owned a store they managed to live in relative comfort even during the Depression era However this material comfort was offset by the fact that they were always the hated other the whitefolk who lived apart almost a mythical race in Maya s young mind were powerful and whimsical gods who could visit death and destruction any time on any black man or woman Even the powhitetrash the drifters and suatters who had the fortune to be born into the Anglo Saxon race could insult even the propertied black people with impunityWhen she was eight years old Maya s father took her brother and herself to their mother Vivian Baxter in St Louis Here the incident which was to become the turning point of her life happened The eight year old girl was raped by her mother s current boyfriend Mr Freeman he managed to wiggle out of jail only to be murdered presumably by Maya s maternal uncles who were also the town toughs As a result of this she became a virtual mute for almost five yearsSent back to Stamps Maya continued her zombie like existence until she was brought back into the world of the living by Bertha Flowers a teacher and family friend she did this by the expedient of introducing the girl to books Maya found refuge in the world of imagination and slowly came back to normalShe again went to live with her mother in California when she was 15 During this sojourn she visited her father in Southern California where another traumatic even in her life took place After a frightening journey across the border into Mexico along with her father when she was forced to drive a car back to the US in the night with him passed out in the back even though she was not a ualified driver Maya was attacked and stabbed by her father s girlfriend She uit home and lived for a month in a junkyard with similar social drop outs before returning to her motherA month of living in the rough had emboldened the shy and withdrawn girl Maya decided to get a job as a streetcar conductor even though the occupation was closed to blacks and succeeded the activist and rebel were just emerging The first instalment of this extended autobiography ends with the picture of Maya as a teen mother of a child conceived out of a casual sexual encounter which she had just to satisfy that she was normal that is heterosexual Maya writes with a disarming honesty and a genuine sense of humour Even the most distressing events are discussed casually the child s eye view is done really well The book is eminently readable Still is this a great book I would not say so Good yes genuinely great noThe causal tone for me took away most of the poignancy Even the extremely distressing rape incident though described in gory detail fails to really make an impact My personal feeling is that this is the author s way of coping with personal trauma you take the emotion out of it However it might come across to people that her mother never cared much I have found this view expressed on one or two of the one star reviews for this book on this siteHowever I salute Maya s courage in writing this explicit memoir Being a black woman she feels disadvantaged thrice as she says The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice white illogical hate and Black lack of power So maybe the best defence is to attack Throw the hypocrisy of society back in its face Say This is I Accept me for what I am whether you like what you see or not

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The ideas of great authors I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned Poetic and powerful I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read. I was sitting on a bench as I enjoyed the last bits of warm sunlight the dying summer was oozing out scrutinizing a newspaper while calculatedly assuming a thoughtful gaze This little girl ran up to me She said Mister mister I know why the caged bird singsI looked up from reading the financial news That s great kid Now run along can t you see I m busyI turned back to reading on how poorly the economy was doing There s nothing like reading bad news to feed the intellect But mister mister the caged bird sings and I know why I know why la di da la di doo and so should youShe skipped and danced excitedly A bunch of people were standing around bestowing benign smiles on the girl and throwing eager looks in my direction as an emphatic plea to hear her out I heaved a sigh put down the paper and saidAlright little one tell me all about that bird of yoursSo she started talking About her grandmother Momma how strong she was about her momma Mother Dear such a beautiful lady about handsome and kind Brother Bailey and big and absent Father Bailey about her little life in a little corner of a little shop The corner despite its size offers the perfect vantage point to see what goes on in that big world and in the little minds that inhabit it She tells excitedly of her sweet childhood memories and shares her keen observations She offers an insider s view on a part of the world a part of society I was completely unfamiliar with I d heard about cotton pickers of course I saw them depicted in popular culture But what I saw through her tales were not mere depictions but real life people worn out by the burdens of their tasks I saw their fatigue through the small spasms of pain surrounding their lips and uavering shoulders the absence of the glint in their eyes as they were telling their jokes But even as I looked into this unknown world many of it felt familiar to me and I realised that this unknown world is my world our world only there s this wall Who put that stupid thing there The little girl showed me the window in that wall and her generous spirit has left it wide open as the breeze of her story wafted through it I willed her to keep talking and she did with passion and patience Suddenly the girl stopped dancing Looking down at the ground she said with a voice as tiny as a cat s whisker A big man hurt me Real badShe looked up The playful twinkle was gone I was ready to stand up hold her in my arms and tell her things would be fine Her eyes defiant filled with pride and intelligence told me she would have none of that She started dancing again slowly and deliberately More memories ensued The tale matured into one dealing with one of society s biggest embarrassments of black people not being allowed to work on tramcars of dentists not wanting to treat little children with a specific ethnic background But despite the enormity of all this humiliation the little girl kept center stage through her courage wit and wisdom Her pace uickened and I heard a melody of personal memories powerful anecdotes and fiery statements of indignation She sang The house was smudged with unspoken thoughts A bit later she said The unsaid words pushed roughly against the thoughts that we had no craft to verbalize and crowded the room to uneasiness Her apparent elouence made the melodious statement all the profound The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind My relief melted my fears and they liuidly stole down my faceAnd then a momentous description of the wall of racism The girl just told me about how a lady receptionist wouldn t allow her to file a candidacy for a job she was coveting The reasons were hidden yet obvious The girl then sang The miserable little encounter had nothing to do with me the me of me any than it had to do with that silly clerk The incident was a recurring dream concocted years ago by stupid whites and it eternally came back to haunt us all The secretary and I were like Hamlet and Laertes in the final scene where because of harm done by one ancestor to another we were bound to duel to the death Also because the play must end somewhere I went further than forgiving the clerk I accepted her as a fellow victim of the same puppeteerI was awestruck but she was obviously waiting for me to say something What a wonderful tale You re giving that clerk an easy pass there but I m sure that once you re a bit older you ll reconsider this imagery however beautiful it is But how about that bird little girl You didn t mention it let alone the reasons for its singingI ain t no little girl no misterAnd with that she stomped off in a fit of piue and out of my sightI wonder if I ll ever see her again I sure hope so I want to know about that bird


10 thoughts on “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

  1. says:

    I must confess I've read precious little Angelou in my time but I'll never forget the day she tipped me 20It was some random gray day in Maruette Michigan must've been the winter of '00 and I was washing dishes as usual a

  2. says:

    Maya Angelou was a poet and Nobel laureate who once gave an address at President Clinton's inauguration Before she won her multitudes of awards and honors Maya was raised in rural Stamps Arkansas by her grandmoth

  3. says:

    I really enjoyed this book It was reuired reading for a University course I took on Adolescent LiteratureThis book has been placed on banned book lists by needlessly close minded people for it's real life contentThe book tastefully addresses issues of molestation rape racism But it does so within the context of the trials and tribulations of

  4. says:

    My mother could never really speak to me about the abuse she suffered as a little girl the closest we came to talking about her experiences occurred when we read this painful and important book together I imagine that Maya's book has allowed countless women who have suffered similar horrors an opportunity to know

  5. says:

    Even before I started listening to this audio book I could hear Angelou’s voice deep and distinctive I remember seeing her on tv at some point in the past and notably even though a while ago when she read a poem she had written for President

  6. says:

    Caged BirdA free bird leapson the back of the windand floats downstreamtill the current endsand dips his wingin the orange sun raysand dares to claim the skyBut a bird that stalksdown his narrow cagecan seldom see throughhis bars of ragehis w

  7. says:

    I have only ever given 5 stars to two autobiographies One was written by a white English man; the other by a black American woman On the surface you would think they could have very little in common yet they do They both have insight and compassion which comes through in every sentence They have both shown enormous courage in almost intolerable situations In short they have a common humanity The white man is Te

  8. says:

    I was sitting on a bench as I enjoyed the last bits of warm sunlight the dying summer was oozing out scrutinizing a newspaper while calculatedly assuming a thoughtful gaze This little girl ran up to me She said Mister mister I know why the ca

  9. says:

    May 2014 I wrote this review a year and a half ago It is written from the perspective of a parent who cares about what her teenage children read in school I hope it may be useful to other parents teens and anyone else who cares about content a

  10. says:

    45 lyrical poignant honest stars 2018 Honorable Mention Read This was a wonderfully written beginning to Ms Angelou's six volume autobiography I had been wanting to read this for many years and Jean's gorgeous review pushed me over the edge to add this to my shortlist Ms Angelou's writing appears effortless and c