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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Mass Market Paperback – April 21, 2009
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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings:
Smiling Through Sadness
Maya Angelou’s first memoir, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, captures the sweetest, purest, and the most honest inner voice of a black child who grew up to be a heroine. Dr. Angelou does not censor anything; She wants us to know it all. It is so true, straightforward, and uncensored that many white parents have attempted to ban this book from schools. This memorable and mysterious autobiography - originally published in 1969 - was followed by another masterpiece entitled: Gather Together In My Name. Both books are available in audio format recorded by Random House Audio. It is amazing that we can hear Dr. Angelou reading her own books to us just like a grandmother putting us to sleep with her adventurous bed-time stories.
Dr. Maya Angelou, who has been honored and awarded numerous times, is a pure soul writing about the evil world of the racist America keeping a matching voice on each chapter of her life. When she is writing about her experiences as a five-year-old, you hear a five-year-old talking to you. Being one of the most recognized public figures and a civil rights movement’s heroine, Maya Angelou, gives us a poetic journey of how a poor disadvantaged black girl was rejected by everyone including her own mother, raped by her mother’s boyfriend, and had to witness his crippled uncle hiding under a pile of onions and potatoes to be protected from racist white beasts on a regular basis. The good news is that the story of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings does not end here. This bird sings her heart out until the cage breaks and she becomes our national treasure.
This powerful modern American classis has changed many readers’ (and listeners’) hearts and minds in a way that every great work of literature should. This book became the best-seller immediately after it was published. What added to my personal itch to read this book when I was first introduced to it was the fact that Dr. Angelou has described William Shakespeare as one of her strongest influence on her life and works. Shakespeare is my all-time favorite “pennist.”
Buy it, read it, keep it, reread it, highlight it, talk about it, advertise it, buy more of it and give it out as a gift, learn from it, and apply what you’ve learned from it in your daily life. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is coming from a heart and soul of someone who had to witness the unnecessary, harsh, and brutal insults that no ordinary human being can bear. Maya Angelou writes the story of a human who was pushed to her limits by the ugliness of this world and while being in a saddest cage, sang the happiest song. Once precious Maya Angelou told her younger generation that seem to be unable to cope with the racism in the past and present:
“You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.”
Oh my goodness.
As soon as I started reading it, I didn't stop. Starting at 7:00 pm., by the time the birds signaled dawn, I finished the last page with tears in my eyes.
Aside from the obviously touching story, Maya Angelou is a truly gifted writer. She was able to transform her writing as her character (herself) aged. She wrote from the mind of a child in the beginning, and by the end, she had a new maturity.
Beautiful. Worth all the accolades it's received thus far.
I give it two stars instead of one for her writing skill and the purely intellectual knowledge that she prevailed in life, and in a BIG way. But had I not known this... Oddly enough, this book had the opposite effect on me as The Color Purple (the book, not the film- I didn't care for the film). Although the Color Purple contains similar themes and threads, for me it SOARED. I guess that has most to do with the fact that the story is complete, we get to see Celie triumph over abuse and adversity. Although we KNOW Angelou does, we don't experience it along with her. Will I read the rest of her story, contained in her subsequent books? I don't know, maybe.
Top international reviews
Synopsis: ‘Memoir’ seems far too simple a word to describe I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Maya Angelou, a writer and civil rights activist (among numerous other careers) recounts her childhood experiences growing up first with her grandmother in the poor, isolated small-town Stamps and later with her mother in the lively glamour of San Francisco. However, she also relates these experiences into much wider issues from oppression to women’s sexuality. Someone asked me what the book is about and I found it so hard to summarise – it is a kaleidoscope of social exploration, perception, complex relationships, powerful moments and wisdom.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was my first experience of reading a memoir and I had my doubts… after all, don’t we read fiction to escape from real life? However, I was immediately engrossed by the combination of Maya Angelou’s compelling voice and the incredible variety and depth of her experiences. Her story comes close to covering the entire spectrum of human emotion; it leads readers through the horrifying, funny then achingly sad in a relatively short space of time.
Its almost lyrical style means the memoir reads almost like fiction and I had to keep reminding myself of its reality. In fact, Maya Angelou is credited with redefining the boundaries of autobiography, intending to ‘write an autobiography as literature.’
There is a thoughtful beauty in her writing, with so many words of wisdom that I had dozens of highlights on my Kindle and found it very difficult to pick just one favourite quote! However, I think the true poignancy of this memoir lies as much in the words she does not use.
"she would not sit beside a draft dodger who was a Negro as well. She added that the least he could do was fight for his country the way her son was fighting on Iwo Jima. The story said that the man pulled his body away from the window to show an armless sleeve. He said quietly and with great dignity, “Then ask your son to look around for my arm, which I left over there."
It is understood that powerful moments such as this need no further commentary. Instead, they are allowed to speak for themselves.
Also, the approach taken to portraying the complex relationships in the book is very much one of interwoven moments rather than a monologue. No attempt is made to simplify or explain these relationships; to do so would be to reduce them, and detract from the way in which the memoir explores the true nature of human connections. I was particularly fascinated by Maya’s relationship with her mother and grandmother, as well as the influence these two starkly different women had on her life.
Something about the book, other than its genre, felt strange and different when I first started reading it. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but then I realised that I have not read a book from a child’s perspective for a very long time (since Room by Emma Donoghue). I always enjoy the immediacy of reading from children’s viewpoints, so focused on present experience, but I found young Maya’s unique, intensely observant view of the world especially captivating.
However, I also relished watching her child’s perspective mature throughout the book as she ages. With the progress of the story, Maya begins to challenge, as well as observe, the nature of our world. I felt privileged to read about the experiences of such an extraordinary woman, who has had a truly extraordinary life.
Favourite quote: “See, you don’t have to think about doing the right thing. If you’re for the right thing, then you do it without thinking.”
The writer writes of attitudes within the black community of which she is very gently critical, again in a thoughtful, completely unjudgemental way, and in that same, very muted, tone warns against victim complexes being sometimes unhelpful. Equality is about all being equal, having the same rights and opportunities, whether white or black, not vengeance for appalling ignorance, racist attitudes and shocking behaviour. This is a book written with great humanity and great dignity.
Living at the family store with her devoutly religious Grandmother and disabled Uncle, she is raised as an obedient and conscientious girl. She describes the racial abuse her Grandmother suffers at the hands of the "powhitetrash" girls in a way that enlightens the reader about life in the 1930's American South.
The memoirs do tackle some extremely difficult themes. The frankness and brutality described by Angelou while explaining her experience of child rape at age 7 is extremely hard to read. But Angelou approaches the subject in her honest, open way. To avoid it would be to not give an honest picture of her life.
This book is inspirational. Maya Angelou survived a hard childhood, separated from her parents in the main, the theme that runs throughout the memoirs is hope. Angelou was a determined, courageous and intelligent woman, and this is obvious from a young age.
I would recommend this book to anyone.
I wasn’t a very attentive student, apparently. For a start I hadn’t realised IKWTCBS is an autobiography, the first of seven.* I didn’t know Angelou has written poetry, plays, essays, children’s books, and cookbooks; nor that as well as being a writer, she was an actor, director, public speaker and, early in her career, singer and dancer. And she was also active in the civil rights movement, knowing both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. (I repeat, what have I done with my life?)
The book begins with Margueritte (Maya’s real name) aged three arriving in Stamps, Arkansas with her four year old brother, Bailey, to be raised by her Grandmother (Momma) following her parents’ break-up. It ends with her aged seventeen, in bed, cradling her three-week old baby son. In the fourteen years in between she experiences the disrespect and racism of the “po white trash”, is raped, aged eight, by her mother’s boyfriend, is stabbed by her father’s jealous girlfriend, and lives rough for a month in a car wrecking yard.
But for all the undeniably traumatic events, the book is strangely uplifting. There is her discovery of and love for literature; her overcoming of institutional racism though sheer bloody-minded persistence to become the first black, female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.
As her mother tells her, as she cradles her son in bed, afraid of hurting him: “See, you don’t have to think about doing the right thing. If you’re for the right thing you do it without thinking.” It’s a good philosophy for life.
*The other six autobiographies are: Gather Together in My Name; Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas; The Heart of a Woman; All God’s Children Need Travellin’ Shoes; A Song Flung Up To Heaven; and Mom & Me & Mom.
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Honestly, realising that it wasn’t fiction was a bit horrible. It meant all the horrible struggles and experiences being shared were real. I wasn’t quite ready for that. I had to put it down for a bit. I love bleak fiction but bleak reality? That’s hard to take. I did pick it back up though - how could I not? It’s an amazing book and the bleakness isn’t presented as such - it’s just the way things are and the young Angelou seems to simply accept everything that happens to her as if it could be no other way. She also manages to make some of it sounds fun and a lot of it sound hilarious.
The only problem is that now I have to put everything else she’s written on my mental “books I want to read” list.
But have to admit, halfway though it, I started to get absorbed by the whole thing! I really got to enjoy reading it, and if first was sure not to buy the following books (being an autobiography of 7 books.. isn't it?) I think i'll get them, as I want to know how it goes on...
Interesting, fascinating, different.