I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Book - 2002
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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. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors ("I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare") will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.
Publisher: New York : Random House, 2002.
ISBN: 9780345514400
Branch Call Number: B AN431IA
Characteristics: 281 pages ; 22 cm


From Library Staff

In the midst of the Great Depression and WWII, Maya and her brother are sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas where they are introduced to a segregated world. Maya's parents work to finalize their divorce and eventually living arrangements change again where Maya and her brother... Read More »

A black woman recalls the anguish of her childhood in Arkansas and her adolescence in northern slums.

A African American woman recalls the anguish of her childhood in Arkansas and her adolescence in northern slums.

List - Memoir-ble
MCPL_ReadersLounge Feb 23, 2018

The author recalls the anguish of her childhood in Arkansas and her adolescence in northern slums.

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Jan 24, 2021

Very raw with beautiful prose. This is a challenging read and would be appropriate for college students and some high schoolers certainly, but I am glad I didn't read it at such a tender age. I think her experience is important and appreciate that she shared it with such honesty and eloquence.

--If you liked this and are looking for other memoirs...--

Try Maxine Hong Kingston's "Woman Warrior" - it is part fable, part memoir and relates Hong Kingston's experience growing up in San Francisco (I think as a 2nd generation Chinese American? It's been 20 years since I read it, so I could be wrong there). Beautiful writing, though it is rather unusual as her memoirs are woven with her retelling of the Fa Mulan story.

Another beautifully written memoir that received a lot of attention in recent years is Jeanette Walls' "The Glass Castle." I can highly recommend the audiobook read by the author. Walls is an incredible storyteller. I was surprised by how much I liked it since it was so heavily marketed, but in this case it was justified.

Jan 20, 2021

I read this book to fulfil the goal read a book with a bird on a cover. I neither disliked it or liked it. It is also on the 300 books everyone should read once list featured on listopia.

Nov 28, 2020

Maya idolized the parents who basically abandoned Maya and her brother after their divorce when they were toddlers to their fathers mother in Arkansas. Maya put her mixed race mother on a pedestal as being the most beautiful, exciting woman she knew as a child. Taking all of Maya's mothers qualities together: gambler, bar fly, leaving her young daughter with her live in boyfriend who raped Maya at 8, I did not like her. A selfish vain woman who always put herself first. Her grandmother a good woman who raised her for many years loved her, but was very reserved. Her father who stayed in CA came to visit infrequently was also selfish and pretentious. No surprised Maya was love starved, and unsure of her place. It is no surprise she was vulnerable to unsavory men in her young life.

Aug 22, 2020

288 pages

Aug 16, 2020


This is one of my first forays into non-fiction, and I'm glad to say that I have picked up this book. Angelou's writing is full of life; you can really tell who she is by the allusions and by the attitude within the words. There was no chapter where I thought felt disconnected from the rest (non-related accounts aren't a "bad" thing per se, but having a connection between each accounts with seeing how the author matures over time). She tackles topics such as racism, sexual assault, and sexuality. I took a star off as it was hard to track time within the book, but I think that is mostly on my part. I recommend this to anyone. It is a truly inspiring book and I have learned a lot from it.

Jun 13, 2020

This honest, straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is autobiography was written like a story -- a poetic, beautifully-written, tragic-but-she-is-resilient, story. (The memory she has! It blew me away.) The story begins with a young Maya growing up in Stamps with her grandmother and uncle and ends with her graduation from high school. Maya sees herself as unremarkable but intelligent. As a child, she is trying to understand her life but, like so many children, she never gets the whole story from her family. I do not want to spoil anything but there is suffering here. There is a particularly painful, abominable episode when Maya is 8-years-old. I know that this is a different time but the outcome will break your heart. Maya processes everything inwardly -- and nobody talks to her about it. Maya's grandmother is her rock and is amazing but there is no real communication. This is her grandmother in a nutshell: "She would have been more surprised than I had she taken me in her arms and wept at losing me. Her world was bordered on all sides with work, duty, religion, and 'her place.' I don't think she ever knew that a deep-brooding love hung over everything she touched. In later years I asked her if she loved me and she brushed me off with: 'God is love. Just worry about whether you're being a good girl, then He will love you.'" It is all about deep feeling and presentation and dignity and strength.

I came away with the sense that Maya had every right to feel neglected, abused, discriminated against. But this story is not told by a weak person. Maya is unbelievably strong. She is her grandmother's daughter. She never feels sorry for herself. She never excuses anyone (not even herself) but there is no blame either. She had strong women role models in her life who taught her the important things. She goes after what she wants. She works hard. She is intelligent and thoughtful. Her life before she finished high school would overwhelm most people. She is remarkable and I must read more!

Jun 11, 2020

Not nice of Maya. I read the book. I still don't know why the caged bird sings; and now, I really want to know why!

IndyPL_AnnaL Apr 20, 2020

This is a biography which describes Maya Angelou's life from the time she was three years old until sixteen. It is an amazingly written book about what it was like growing up as an African American girl in Arkansas, with her grandmother, St, Louis with her mother and family and San Francisco with her mother and sometimes father during the first half of the 20th century. Dr. Angelou is know for her strength, activism and beautiful prose. As you read her story, you understand the many obstacles that she overcame to become the woman she was and still is in the hearts of many. Reading this made me appreciate her work even more.

Jan 29, 2020

"It was awful to be Negro and have no control over my life. It was brutal to be young and already trained to sit quietly and listen to charge brought against my color with no chance of defense. We should all be dead, I thought."

Jul 03, 2019

Gorgeous story. I throughly enjoy her writing. Certainly Maya Angelou is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

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Jun 13, 2020

"This book is
dedicated to


who defy the odds and gods
and sing their songs"

Jun 13, 2020

"The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power.
The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance."

Jun 13, 2020

"He was away in a mystery, locked in the enigma that young Southern Black boys start to unravel, start to try to unravel, from seven years old to death. The humorless puzzle of inequality and hate. His experience raised the question of worth and values, of aggressive inferiority and aggressive arrogance. Could Uncle Willie, a Black man, Southern, crippled moreover, hope to answer the questions, both asked and unuttered? Would Momma, who knew the ways of the whites and the wiles of the Blacks, try to answer her grandson, whose very life depended on his not truly understanding the enigma? Most assuredly not."

Jun 13, 2020

"Until we reached the pond the pain was my world, an aura that haloed me for three feet around. Crossing the bridge into whitefolks' country, pieces of sanity pushed themselves forward. I had to stop moaning and start walking straight. The white towel, which was drawn under my chin and tied over my head, had to be arranged. If one was dying, it had to be done in style if the dying took place in whitefolks' part of town."

"It seemed terribly unfair to have a toothache and a headache and have to bear at the same time the heavy burden of Blackness."

Jun 13, 2020

"It was awful to be Negro and have no control over my life. It was brutal to be young and already trained to sit quietly and listen to charges brought against my color with no chance of defense."

Jun 13, 2020

"The white kids were going to have a chance to become Galileos and Madame Curies and Edisons and Gauguins, and our boys (the girls weren't even in on it) would try to be Jesse Owenses and Joe Louises.

Owens and the Brown Bomber were great heroes in our world, but what school official in the white-goddom of LIttle Rock had the right to decide that those two men must be our only heroes? Who decided that for Henry Reed to become a scientist he had to work like George Washington Carver, as a bootblack, to buy a lousy microscope? Bailey was obviously always going to be too small to be an athlete, so which concrete angel glued to what country seat had decided that if my brother wanted to become a lawyer he had to first pay penance for his skin by picking cotton and hoeing corn and studying correspondence books at night for twenty years?"

Jun 13, 2020

"People whose history and future were threatened each day by extinction considered that it was only by divine intervention that they were able to live at all."

Jun 13, 2020

"Children's talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives."

Jun 13, 2020

"I could never put my finger on her realness ... But what mother and daughter understand each other, or even have the sympathy for each other's lack of understanding?"

Jun 13, 2020

"Momma intended to teach Bailey and me to use the paths of life that she and her generation and all the Negroes gone before had found, and found to be safe ones. She didn't cotton to the idea that whitefolks could be talked to at all without risking one's life. And certainly they couldn't be spoken to insolently. In fact, even in their absence they could not be spoken of too harshly unless we used the sobriquet 'They.' If she had been asked and had chosen to answer the question of whether she was cowardly or not, she would have said that she was a realist."

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