Title: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Author: Maya Angelou
Genre: Non-Fiction Biography
Read by: Author
Publisher/Date: Books on Tape, 2011
Dates listened to: 6/3/17 – 6/12/17
Originally published in 1969, this memoir is about Maya Angelou’s childhood during the 1930’s and 1940’s. She was born Marguerite and her brother nicknamed her Maya, meaning “mine”. Maya and Bailey were sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, when they were three and four years old. Their parents decided to put an end to their marriage and the kids spent part of their growing up years with their paternal grandmother, a remarkable woman. She ran the store in the black community. Through the grandmother we learn how she brought a semblance of right to the community and Maya’s life about things that mattered. I loved how she stood up to the local white dentist when he refused to help Maya with an abscessed tooth.
Later they went to St. Louis for a visit with their mother. This was tragic for Maya who was raped. She knew this was not right, yet felt comforted by the man who held her so softly that she wished he wouldn’t ever let her go. He threatened to kill Bailey if she ever told. As a result of a trial that followed, she recessed into her own world, refusing to speak. Her brother was her closest ally and she could confide to him what she couldn’t to others. So great was her turmoil she found it impossible to confess, even to him. Soon the two were back in Stamps with their grandmother. It was she who introduced Maya to a friend who helped her come out of her shell, heal and find purpose in life.
Eventually, their mother, living in San Francisco, took Maya and Baily to Los Angeles to be with their father. This, too, ended in unpleasantness. He wasn’t very nice to her. Leaving her with friends but not coming back to pick her up, she found herself temporarily homeless, sleeping in vacant cars, wandering the streets.
Back again with her mother and in an attempt to find herself and know who she was meant to be, Maya submitted herself to a boy in the neighborhood, a boy she carefully considered before approaching him. In her senior year and without knowledge of her mother or anyone, she became pregnant. Fortunately, her mother was there for her and supported her during her delivery and her decision to keep the baby.
I can see why this book is a classic. Maya Angelou was an extraordinary woman. She tells it like it was and helps us understand the senselessness of racial prejudice and child abuse, the torment and sweetness of growing up. This, indeed, is a painful process and as she says “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”