I’ve been slowly reading #6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou for a few weeks now, and a finished it yesterday. What a beautifully written book. Its prose but reads like poetry (no big surprise there). Oh, why haven’t I read this book before?
Bird is the first of Angelou’s five autobiographies. The story begins with her parent’s divorce when little Maya and brother Bailey travel, unattended, from California to Stamps Arkansas. There they live with “Momma”, their paternal grandmother, a loving, but very strict pillar of the black community. The children live in Stamps for most of their childhood. There is a year-long trip to St. Louis to live with “mother dearest” when Maya is 7, but they go back south for several more years before eventually heading to California to live with their mother again.
The book is full of hardships, like when Maya, at aged 7, is raped by her mother’s live-in lover in St. Louis. Or when it
recalls the despair often felt by the black cotton pickers as they filed into Momma’s general store, returning from the fields on bad days. [120 Banned Books pg 504]
But largely it is a book about defying the odds and finding inner strength and small triumphs in unlikely places. Proving that education and attention opens the locks on any cage.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has been banned and challenged frequently since its publication in 1969. The biggest objection is that it is Sexually Explicit (especially the rape scene and 16-year-old Maya’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy at the end of the book.) Some called it “morally and religiously offensive smutt” because of its “sexually explicit language” [Ibid] while others warned that it was ” pornographic, contains profanity and encourages premarital sex and homosexuality.” [Ibid]
In 1983 The Alabama State Textbook Committee rejected the book because the believe that it ‘preaches bitterness and hatred against whites.’ [Ibid]
Perhaps that would count as Cultural Insensitivity or Political Viewpoint on our matrix of challenges. The white people of Stamps are certainly not shown in a flattering light. Ditto, almost, Momma’s zealous devotion to religion. And there is plenty of Alcohol and Violence.
Thanks to Maggie for her contributions to this review.