I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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 mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Yea...

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Title:I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Author:Maya Angelou
Rating:
ISBN:0553279378
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Mass Market Paperback
Number of Pages:246 pages

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Reviews

  • Brad
    Mar 29, 2008

    I really enjoyed this book. It was required reading for a University course I took on Adolescent Literature.

    This book has been placed on banned book lists by needlessly close-minded people for it's real life content.

    The book tastefully addresses issues of molestation, rape, racism. But it does so within the context of the trials and tribulations of growing up as well.

    The book presents things in a direct and extremely vivid fashion, but it is not garishly or needlessly graphic. These are issues

    I really enjoyed this book. It was required reading for a University course I took on Adolescent Literature.

    This book has been placed on banned book lists by needlessly close-minded people for it's real life content.

    The book tastefully addresses issues of molestation, rape, racism. But it does so within the context of the trials and tribulations of growing up as well.

    The book presents things in a direct and extremely vivid fashion, but it is not garishly or needlessly graphic. These are issues that need to be addressed and talked about with adolescents. In fact, earlier generations could have likely benefited from a little more open discussion about such matters.

    In any regard, the book is not about these issues, it simply addresses them within the context, which is Maya Angelou's early life from somewhere around age 6 up to about 17 or 18 I believe.

    Worth reading, worth having your kids read. Just be sure to discuss it's content with them......like a parent should anyway.

  • Brian
    Jan 27, 2009

    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 they will never be alone in their pain. And perhaps, like my mother, an opportunity to begin to heal by sharing their story with a loved one.

    RIP, Maya. Your words have made this plan

    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 they will never be alone in their pain. And perhaps, like my mother, an opportunity to begin to heal by sharing their story with a loved one.

    RIP, Maya. Your words have made this planet a better place. If only the rest of us could be half as decent as you.

  • Rowena
    Jan 29, 2012

    I'm quite ashamed that it's taken me this long to read this book. Maya Angelou is so inspirational to many people so reading about her childhood and adolescence was really special. I found her autobiography tragic and also hopeful at the same time. Things have changed a lot since Angelou's childhood, such as segregation, and colourism in the black community (to an extent). The fact that she went through that period of history and is alive to see the first Black president in US history is just wo

    I'm quite ashamed that it's taken me this long to read this book. Maya Angelou is so inspirational to many people so reading about her childhood and adolescence was really special. I found her autobiography tragic and also hopeful at the same time. Things have changed a lot since Angelou's childhood, such as segregation, and colourism in the black community (to an extent). The fact that she went through that period of history and is alive to see the first Black president in US history is just wonderful.

  • Dawn
    Jan 23, 2013

    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 and wants to make informed decisions about what they read. I received mostly negative reactions to my review, but also a few positive comments which encouraged me. After a year of dealing with it all, I wanted to be done and move on, so I closed the com

    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 and wants to make informed decisions about what they read. I received mostly negative reactions to my review, but also a few positive comments which encouraged me. After a year of dealing with it all, I wanted to be done and move on, so I closed the comment section. If you wish to read through the comments, you'll see a few posts I wrote in reply. My final comments are in the last two posts. This is my personal reaction to the book, and I support your right to make your own choices about what you read, too.

    I read this book because my teenage son was going to be required to read it in his English class at school. I did not want to read the book because I was aware of its content. But I felt it necessary in order to be able to talk to the teacher about my objections. So I did not like this book. My degree in Comparative Literature enables me to recognize some literary value in Caged Bird, as well as historical and social value. I believe Maya Angelou is a talented writer. I admire some of her poetry. But her series of autobiographical books includes too much explicit and disturbing sexual content for me. And I certainly did not want my 15 year old son to have to read it! He did not want to read it and my husband and I completely supported his choice.

    The most graphic and disturbing sexual material in Caged Bird involves the rape of the author as an eight year old girl. This horrible experience deeply affects her life. But I believe our teenage children can understand that terrible things like this happen, without needing to be dragged through the muck of the sordid details. Ms. Angelou writes vividly. My son does not want those images in his head, and I fully support him. I can see this book being taught at the college level, but I strongly feel that it is not appropriate for high school required reading. In my son's advanced English class, this book was one of six main texts. In the regular English class, there are only two main texts, and this is one of them. How sad, when there are so many other great literary works to choose from which are clean.

    My son's teacher was nice and professional about it. Another English teacher was not so nice. She acted surprised that I would characterize the book as "R-rated." She said that we could see worse things on prime-time TV. Our (my husband's and my) response was "That's why we choose not to watch those TV shows!" It bothered me that she would try to use the "everybody's doing it" excuse. Just because our society's standards of decency continue to plummet, is no reason to embrace them! It is an American Lit class, so I suggested a couple of other texts as options if the purpose was to address the African American experience. But this book is obviously one of that teacher's favorites, so she defended it. The teachers did say that our son could choose to read a different book. However, because the class structure was centered on discussion, we and our son chose to have him read an 'edited version' of Caged Bird instead. I just told him which chapters to skip. And I'm glad that our son happened to have the more sympathetic teacher.

    So I'm done with my rant now. Just needed to get that out. I'm glad that I love to read so I can be alert to what my children are exposed to at school. I know other parents who would also object to this book if they were more aware of the content. And I understand that it's hard to keep up with our kids sometimes. I expect we'll run into this problem again at the high school. But on the bright side, I also get to enjoy discussing good books with my children!

  • Frankie
    Feb 12, 2017

    Read along with a friend.

    Enjoyed it but it was another coming of age story which I have read a lot recently. Got a little boring for me at times. Loved the writing but probs wont pick up the next couple of books.

  • Arthur Graham
    Nov 29, 2013

    I must confess I've read precious little Angelou in my time, but I'll never forget the day she tipped me $20.

    It was some random gray day in Marquette, Michigan, must've been the winter of '00, and I was washing dishes as usual at the downtown Landmark Inn. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "hey, there's a VIP coming in, put on your bellboy hat and head out front." I didn't put on my bellboy hat because I didn't have one — just the same dirty, drenched apron I wore every day in that yea

    I must confess I've read precious little Angelou in my time, but I'll never forget the day she tipped me $20.

    It was some random gray day in Marquette, Michigan, must've been the winter of '00, and I was washing dishes as usual at the downtown Landmark Inn. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "hey, there's a VIP coming in, put on your bellboy hat and head out front." I didn't put on my bellboy hat because I didn't have one — just the same dirty, drenched apron I wore every day in that year or two between high school and college, at least whenever I wasn't sitting in my shitty little apartment, or wasting time and brain cells someplace else.

    Stepping out into the sub-zero winds, I saw before me the fanciest tour bus I'd ever seen in my whole entire life. Even to this day, I've never seen a better one. In fact, the only thing fancier than the bus itself was the mink coat on the elderly black woman exiting it, and I'll never forget the words she mumbled to my wet, skinny ass, there on the frozen sidewalk of my youth:

    "Boy, you'll catch yo' death out here..."

    If I'd remained outdoors another half hour or so, I suppose I may've proven her right, but instead I hauled her six or seven massive bags inside, into the elevator, and up to her room on the fifth (?) floor.

    Maya Angelou gave me $20, and I never even read her fucking book.

    What an

    I am...

  • Jean
    Jan 07, 2014

    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 Terry Waite. The black woman, Maya Angelou.

    by M

    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 Terry Waite. The black woman, Maya Angelou.

    by Maya Angelou is a book which will play on your emotions. It is not a manipulative book; it is a raw and honest account, eloquently expressed. But if you did not take a deep breath sometimes before starting another page, you would not be human.

    It is galling to think that this description of poverty and unreasoning prejudice is within living memory, in a so-called “free” country. In the United States, the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity was set up in 1961, prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It precedes the Race Relations Act of 1965, which was the first legislation in the United Kingdom to address racial discrimination. Yet the differences of perception and attitudes between the two countries for the early and middle parts of the 20th Century are enormous.

    Perhaps it is the sheer size of the US, but the racial segregation which was ever-present - at least in the Southern States - was never a feature of English life, or life in Great Britain. There was prejudice certainly, and when there was an influx of black people in the 1960's to fulfil specific job vacancies, such as nursing or bus drivers and conductors, some black people suffered much abuse and humiliation from some members of the indigenous white public, such as landladies putting cards saying “no coloureds” in their windows. But the discrimination was never institutionalised. Unlike South Africa and the Southern States of America, there were no separate schools, townships or public toilets. The UK was not a racist society as such, although some individual members of it certainly were.

    What comes across in this book, especially to a non-American, is that the racial segregation was condoned. It was the norm at all points. It seems so entrenched that it is startling that any progress could be made from such a point. For this appalling account of ignorance and prejudice is surprisingly recent. Maya Angelou was born in 1928, and was therefore slightly younger than my own mother. And she was describing events which were closer in time to when she was writing them, than we now are ahead in time. It ends in 1944, before the end of World War II. This is the first part of her autobiography, which finally ran to seven volumes, the final volume being published in 2013.

    I knew of Maya Angelou's works of course, but somehow had never got around to reading them.

    had been sitting on my bookshelf for 20 years unread. Perhaps part of me suspected it would be a harrowing read, but I had not anticipated its wry humour. Maya Angelou died last year, in 2014. There’s a sort of poignancy in discovering a writer after they have just died. Sometimes it happens because for a short time they achieve more prominence generally. When the reaction is so positive, the experience is tinged with slight regret, nonsensical though it is. For so many long-dead classic authors that opportunity is not open to us from the start. It would have been nice to appreciate them more during their lifetime. Will I carry on reading the continuing parts? Certainly. The five stars are not awarded solely to the person. They are awarded to the work, as they should be. It is an extraordinary first book, especially considering that the author is someone who feels the voice is essential for meaning, someone who was always recognised as a passionate performance poet. From this book alone,

    Here is her memory of an inspired natural teacher, Sister Flowers,

    Perhaps then it is not so surprising to find a poetic turn of phrase, such lyrical prose as,

    or a beautifully evocative description. But be warned. Not everything which is graphic here is beautiful imagery,

    The blurb itself, should you read it, will tell the reader of some very disturbing events which are described, but those parts will prompt a deep emotional reaction. The work also puts much of her poetry in context; the anger and prominent themes in her poetry become all of a piece with the unfolding account of her life. And in this, the staggered telling of her tale is also very effective. She alternated a book of poetry with a book of autobiography, and these memoirs are far more expressive and revealing than one static book of past autobiography could be. The gradual telling of her tale feels more in the present, than it does reflection.

    The first volume starts with the author, then called

    at 3 years old, being sent on a train journey with her 4 year old brother. Neither had any idea why they were being sent South to live with their grandmother,

    in the tiny town of “Stamps", Arkansas. Most of this first part is about her life there; her strict upbringing by the poor, but proud and upright, religious woman, who devoted herself to making as good a life as she could for her disabled son and grandchildren,

    The store served the needs of all those in Stamps, mostly workers in the cotton fields. The recent history of slavery is virtually palpable. The conditions at times seemed little better than the past. Each day the workers started with optimism, but they were trapped in a life from which realistically they could never escape; never being paid enough for their work to get out of debt. Yet nearly all these people were hard-working and honest,

    There are wonderful descriptions of her grandmother’s store. It is a hub for the community, a working business, but for young Marguerite it is a cornucopia of smells and sights,

    She remembers the days here, the pride of her handicapped Uncle Willy, the immensely strict regime she and her brother Bailey Junior were expected to cope with. Her grandmother, a businesswoman, was much respected in the exclusively black area of Stamps,

    She escaped whenever possible into her fantasy world of books,

    As the author grew older, her perception of bigotry, her indignation at the racial unfairness which pervaded everything in her experience, grew. She accepted without understanding the submissive attitudes she was expected to make, and subservience she had to show, observing of Momma,

    But her grandmother wanted the best for the two children,

    There is much about loneliness and alienation in this first novel. Maya Angelou tried to cultivate a philosophical attitude to her experiences,

    But the instances piled one on top of another. Even the wild, neglected and dirty

    children jeered, made fun of, and looked down on all the people in the the black neighbourhood. A doctor, a dentist - people who should have been literally indebted to her grandmother because of the financial help she had afforded them in the past - showed truly shocking insulting behaviour when appealed to for help. The white people almost exclusively treated the black people worse than they would treat their animals. It is difficult to convey without telling the story how each tiny instance was compounded. During a court case,

    because, of course, a white person’s perception was that a black person did not deserve the status of respect.

    The book seems to escalate until the reader feels that something has to give.

    The author reflects that it was perhaps one instance of profound prejudice, which severely affected her brother emotionally, which led to their being sent away from Arkansas. They had only lived there a couple of years, when the two children were collected by their father, a cultured giant of a man, and taken back to live with their mother -

    as Bailey called her - in St. Louis. Their lives from this point take a sudden turn, living with this impulsive beautiful butterfly of a woman with her film-star looks. A crime is committed when Maya is just eight years old. This is brutal; an appalling account to read, both a physically and psychologically raw and graphic description. The child is the victim, but as so often happens, the victim is convinced that she is somehow guilty. Circumstances force her to tell a small lie, and for this too, she cannot forgive herself. The children return to Momma.

    The next few years are chronicled in the book with much movement between the adults in the family. They have to cope with extremes in moral codes. From the earliest chapters the reader has been stunned by the extremist Christian doctrine of their grandmother. Beating a child for saying

    , because - never mind whether the child understands or not - it was considered to be blasphemy. Another small incident which haunts the reader, is Bailey Junior being beaten for yearning so much for his mum, that he watched a similar-looking film star, and was late home. There are countless such examples. These are very hard to accept, because these two things were perpetrated by the good people - the ones with a sense of duty and responsibility. The ignorant prejudice in the wider community, outside the town of Stamps, was oddly easier to read about than this, which felt like a betrayal by the adults whom the children trusted.

    But later, the moral code is turned on its head. Both Maya’s mother and father were city folk working in a very different world. Her father in Mexico had friends who were almost gangsters, with a completely different sense of morality, although in itself the ethical code was just as strong,

    These parts are very entertaining to read, and must have been an eye-opener to a young teenager from such a narrow background.

    The book ends when Maya Angelou is 17. Although her given name was

    , she was always called

    because her brother called her

    trying to say the words

    . To the little girl, that felt like her true identity, not what others called her. There is one episode in the book, where a white woman tried to call her

    for her own personal convenience -

    . That is a hugely emotional part of the book. The reader can sense the profound insult; the hidden history of “ownership”. I gave a mental cheer when Maya managed to turn this around.

    At 12 Maya had had her graduation from Lafayette County Training School. I personally found this almost the most affecting part of the book. Maya was a supremely talented and hard-working child. The reader senses her feelings bubbling over - her well-earned pride in her achievements. But yet again, because of an incident involving an ignorant white person, her whole world comes crashing down around her ears,

    Maya Angelou had somehow recovered from the terrible crime against her at 8 years old. How could she possibly recover from this one? How can one person continue to have courage, strength and fight? Isn't it easier just to give up and say, “Yes Ma’am”?

    This is a book that will sometimes make you ashamed to be a member of the human race. It is in part a catalogue of Man’s inhumanity to man, woman’s inhumanity to woman. It will also, however, make you proud of what can be achieved. One hopes it was cathartic to write, but it is far more than the plague of misery sagas which have descended onto our bookshelves in recent years. It is nonfiction, but it is as entertaining as a novel; parts of it reading like lyrical prose. It has some devastating descriptions of brutality, yes, but there is much to smile over too, often in her wry little asides,

    is an important, defining, incredibly brave work for its time of 1969. From a relatively unknown author, a world was firmly introduced to the reality of racial tensions and prejudice in the Southern United States. It was a book which would have been very hard to read without the author’s strength and humour coming through, and it remains so, over 45 years later.

    The book grips you from its start. Maya Angelou has a unique ability to make any reader identify with a poor black child, to experience what they experience, from whatever point the reader is in their own life. There is much talk nowadays of the “Black Voice”. Maya Angelou does not alienate. She does not seek to select her audience; she speaks to us all. Her book is self-evidently from a black perspective, but she skilfully makes it the reader’s own, putting us all firmly in the mind of herself as a child. She conveys her various feelings of confusion, pride, hatred, despair, guilt and rage, expressing so well the reasoning behind them at the time.

    Her use of dialect is perfectly balanced for a general reader. It is authentic and essential, yet at no point is the reader likely to have to pause, reread and try to interpret. I personally have had far more difficulty with my experience of classic books which attempt to include a written representation of my own native, regional Yorkshire speech. This is part of her great skill as a writer - it flows. She concentrates on our common humanity. This is a book which can, perhaps should, be read by everyone at least once in their lifetime. It shows how far both an individual and a society can progress within one person’s lifetime.

    As tiny Marguerite Johnson might have said - although she would have “corrected” her own grammar, as all people have different vernaculars for different situations, and black people of that time had one “language” for school and academic pursuits, another for their community, and a third to reinforce white people’s expectations of them ...

    “We all doin’ well.”

  • Nicole~
    Oct 08, 2014

    4.5 stars

    is a personal account told in the voice of a child cleverly reconstructed by an adult narrator. Through the observations of Maya, the child, comes a coming-of-age story - a social record of a young black female growing up in the 1930s. As an historical document 'Caged Bird' covers the bigotry, cruelty, oppression and the constant threat of death that constituted daily life in the South.

    4.5 stars

    is a personal account told in the voice of a child cleverly reconstructed by an adult narrator. Through the observations of Maya, the child, comes a coming-of-age story - a social record of a young black female growing up in the 1930s. As an historical document 'Caged Bird' covers the bigotry, cruelty, oppression and the constant threat of death that constituted daily life in the South.

    The autobiography is also a representation that can be read as a feminist observation.

    Maya was fortunate to have the unbending support from strong, financially independent, no-nonsense women like Momma (her paternal grandmother) who owned land and a grocery business, her mother Vivian who owned a gambling hall, and even her politically well-placed, octoroon maternal grandmother Baxter: all whose convictions not to be dependent on men, provided Maya with the foundation on which to build her self-assurance.

    More significantly, after the violent traumatic and pivotal experience of her young life from which she 'loses' her speech, we are reminded that abject struggle often precede success; it is through her strong willed teacher, Mrs. Flowers, that Maya finds confidence, self worth and retrieves from imprisonment her voice. The last part of Maya's journey through adolescence is poignant in the mother/ daughter / infant visual, and although she is still uncertain and insecure, she receives the promise of maturity:

    Maya Angelou eloquently articulated how the painful struggles and scattered happy experiences of growing up in the South had a significant role in the shaping of the gifted, outspoken, determined, inspirational person she became.

    is the first in the magnificent six-volume autobiography of Maya Angelou (April 1928 - May 2014): a poet, author, civil rights activist, professor, feminist. A brilliant achievement, highly recommend. My copy is from

    ( Modern Library) 2012

    *verses from the poem 'Caged Bird' by Maya Angelou, are not presented in original sequence.

  • Nandakishore Varma
    Jun 09, 2015

    The above poem by Maya Angelou (not

    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 Orpheus.

    I understand that this book has been banned multiple times. Not surprising, considering that the words of the poet have more 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 squatters who had the fortune to be born into the Anglo-Saxon race, could insult even the propertied black people with impunity.

    When 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 years.

    Sent 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 normal.

    She 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 qualified driver!), Maya was attacked and stabbed by her father’s girlfriend. She quit home and lived for a month in a junkyard, with similar social drop-outs, before returning to her mother.

    A 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, no.

    The 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 site).

    However, I salute Maya’s courage in writing this explicit memoir. Being a black woman, she feels disadvantaged thrice, as she says:

    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!”

  • Brina
    Feb 11, 2017

    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 l

    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 quickly 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 more opportunities than rural Stamps, that she experienced the low point in her childhood. Physically abused by her mother's fiancé, 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.