I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
A phenomenal #1 bestseller that has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly three years, this memoir traces Maya Angelou’s childhood in a small, rural community during the 1930s. Filled with images and recollections that point to the dignity and courage of black men and women, Angelou paints a sometimes disquieting, but always affecting picture of the people—and the times—that touched her life.
I had to read this for my advanced nonfiction writing course, and my peers were surprised when I said I had not read it before. Apparently it’s assigned a lot in high school English classes. My high school, though extremely academic and well-educated, was a bit biased and stuck underneath a bubble. It’s a predominately white, rich community, and in no way intended to create a curriculum that was – by not having black literature – racist. What wasn’t there or didn’t happen in this community, wasn’t or wouldn’t be acknowledged. I didn’t realize how sheltered it was until I came to college.
That said, all I knew about this memoir was that the narrator was raped as a young girl. I went into the text feeling a sense of dread, as well as a bit of “gosh, another writer rambling about all her troubles, that’s so new” attitude. I was pleasantly surprised instead!
Angelou wrote this piece simply, carefully, and entertainingly, while incorporating huge ideas and deep questions. A range of topics within a chapter would include the use of language, the complexities of family and familial love, race, the boundaries of race, sexuality, gender, and social interactions. My favorite parts of this memoir were moments when the narrator struggled between a love for reading – literature by white people, she’d always point out – and a desperation for reality – such as the power struggles between men and women, whites and blacks, children and adults.
Despite all its merits, I do not think I will pick this up again. I enjoyed it for the sake of its academic purposes, and I can easily understand why high school teachers put this on reading lists for students. My general distaste for reading nonfiction is showing.
Rating: ★★ of 5
GoodReads: 3.96 of 5