Thursday, September 10, 2015

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou


Paperback: 281 pages
Genre: Autobiography 
Publisher: Random Press 1969
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentences: "What you looking at me for? I didn't come to stay..."
Favourite Quote: As I ate she began the first of what we later called "my lessons in living." She said that I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy.
Review Quote: She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence and a fierce grace . . . She will always be the rainbow in my clouds (Oprah Winfrey)
My Opinion: An emotional and vivid read.

The first volume in Maya Angelou's autobiography has long been considered a classic but it never really appealed to me. I doubt I would have ever have got round to picking this up to read then had it not been selected as the January read for one of the Book Clubs I am a member of.  Yes this is a depressing story of racial discrimination in the American south in the 1930's and 40's but the author has an expressive way with language that makes for an emotional and vivid read. 

It is thanks to Maya's love of literature that she manages to cope with the traumatic childhood that she experienced. At just three and four years of age she and her older bother Bailey were sent by their parents to live in Stamps, Arkansas with their paternal grandmother Annie Henderson. Annie was a devout and enterprising woman running a local store, which was also the family home. Living there with their grandmother and a physically disabled Uncle, the children not only had to deal with the feeling that they had been abandoned by their parents but also discrimination and prejudice.
Five years later back, but it turns out only temporarily, in Louisiana with her mother Maya is brutally and sexually attacked by a man many years her senior. A terrible experience which stayed with her for the rest of her life. It is only years later whilst living in San Francisco that she discovers that love and kindness outside the family and literature does exist. 

In conclusion, if you are considering reading this bear in mind that it does contain graphic and sexually explicit passages about the terrible experience of her rape at the age of eight. Sadly this is fact, a real life coming of age story where brutality seemed to be part of everyday life.

Author Profile

Maya Angelou (Marguerite Ann Johnson) was born in St Louis, Missouri, USA on April 4th 1928 and she died on May 28th 2014. She grew up in St Louis Missouri and Stamps, Arkanas. During her lifetime she wrote her Biographies, poetry, acted and became an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement.
In 2001 she was named one of the 30 most powerful women in America by Ladies Home Journal. Maya Angelou is known for her series of six autobiographies, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969. Her volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die (1971) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

The Angelou Johnson Family are keeping her memory alive, as the following message on her website

Developing a love of truth, standing for civil rights, enjoying life itself and recording the experience, our matriarch became an inspiration. Maya Angelou’s words, spoken, on the printed page or reflected here, continue to promote self-examination, equality and friendship. Believing that “we are more alike than unalike”, Maya Angelou would be the first to say that as a child of God it was her duty to recognize that everyone else was also a child of God, “Everybody born comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory.”

Join us as we celebrate a life well lived! Take time to read, listen, view and be inspired. Trail your wisps of glory and once you've clicked every page, make sure you return as we continue to expand the experience. Together, let’s celebrate life and joy!

The Angelou Johnson Family

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.