I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was a well-known activist throughout the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's. She wrote I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a way of dealing with his death and to highlight her own personal struggles as an African-American woman. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is the first book in a five part autobiography and is considered a milestone for African-American writing. It details Maya Angelou's troublesome childhood in the segregated south during the 1930's.

One of the things that makes Maya Angelou's childhood particularly interesting is that she experienced two different worlds growing up. One living with her grandmother in a segregated community in Stamps, Arkansas, where she remembered "never believing that whites were really real" and a second after she turned 13, when Maya's lived with her mother in San Francisco, a place that quickly became "California's Harlem" when WWI began and the majority of the Asian community left the area and African Americans began to dominate. While the people who surrounded Maya had a great impact on her life, these two places also proved to be influential and ultimately had a great effect on her - changing the way she viewed the world and viewed herself.
In San Francisco, for the first time, I perceived myself as part of something. Not that I identified with the newcomers, nor with the rare Black descendants of native San Franciscans, nor with the whites or even the Asians, but rather with the times and the city.
What I related to the most in Angelou's story was her passion for literature and it's capacity to heal and inspire. Throughout her childhood, Maya Angelou experienced traumatic events that no child should have to endure. However, she coped with her feelings of displacement and uncertainty through literature. Ultimately her reading helped to shape the strong, secure woman she grew to be.

Even though this novel was published in 1969, Angelou's prose feels fresh, employing anecdotes that made me frown in sadness and laugh out loud.
Ever since [my brother and I] read The Fall of the House of Usher we had made a pact that neither of us would allow the other to be buried unless 'absolutely, positively sure' (his favorite phrase) that the person was dead. I also had to swear that when his soul was sleeping I would never try to wake it, for the shock might make it go to sleep forever.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is a story of a young girls evolution of her own identity as an African-American woman
The fact than an adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even billigerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.
It's a book about persistence, perseverance and tolerance. While some instances were hard to stomach, overall I enjoyed the book very much.

Publisher: Virago, 1969


  1. I've heard about this book for so long yet have never read it. And it's a shame because it sounds wonderful. I may need to pick up a copy. Great review!

    I also like the new design and header image!

  2. Red, You should read it. I think you would like it. Also, thanks for the kind words! I was hoping for a little feedback :)

  3. Excellent review. It kind of sounds like a female version of Richard Wright's "Black Boy" which also was told in two parts. One with Wright growing up in the segregated South and the other with Wright as a young man in Chicago.

  4. This is one of those books that I've known about for a long time and wanted to read for a long time, but just haven't. I think I should get around to it soon after reading your review.

  5. I definitely left a comment and it didn't post. This is one of those books I've seen and just never picked up. This is one of those titles with painful material because it's simply unbelievable that segregation was even apart of American society. To think it ended only 50 plus years ago in some parts of the US is even more disturbing. I'm definitely going to get a copy. Thanks for the review.

  6. Tony D, That does sound very similar.

    Sam, It's not one to miss.

    Beth, That's weird... I promise I didn't delete it. Anyway, that is crazy to think about. I think it's something our generation almost takes for granted because we have never seen it - but it really isn't very far behind us.

  7. I've been meaning to read this for years and years. Thank you for the reminder!

  8. I really enjoyed this book. It was hard to believe it was a memoir.

  9. "What I related to the most in Angelou's story was her passion for literature and it's capacity to heal and inspire."

    That's someone who understood the power of literature. By the way, I like the new design Brenna. A lot more visual appeal.

  10. I'm with a lot of others - I've heard about this book and it's been on my TBR for a while. Looking forward to getting round to it!

    Also - this new design is super cute! I like it a lot!

  11. Nymeth, I think you would like it.

    Bookquoter, I felt the same way.

    Ben, Thanks! :)

    Benthany, It's a good one, and thank you!

  12. I loved this book! I read all 5 in high school and although the other 4 were not as good as Caged Bird I really enjoyed them all.

  13. I read this book around Christmastime (although it wasn't at all Christmassy!) and I thought it was incredible! I just can't say enough good things about it to everyone ever! Great review too :)