A Year of READING Dangerously: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings


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?

Caged Bird_

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.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to Maggie for her contributions to this review.

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About ritalovestowrite

Freelance writer, graphic designer, musician, foodie and Jane Austen enthusiast in Northern Baltimore County, Maryland. As a writer I enjoy both fiction and non fiction (food, travel and local interest stories.) As an advocate for the ARTS, one of my biggest passions is helping young people find a voice in all the performing arts. To that end it has been my honor to give one-on-one lessons to elementary, middle and high school students in graphic design and music. And as JANE-O I currently serve as the regional coordinator for JASNA Maryland and am working on a Regency/Federal cooking project. View all posts by ritalovestowrite

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