I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

This is another book I’ve had on my must read list for quite some time.  Perhaps my disinterest for most things poetic kept it gathering dust on my bookshelves.  Had I known nothing of the author, I surely would have suspected a poet in the midst.

This was an intriguing tale of Angelou’s early years and told in unabashed yet lyrical form.  What I found distracting was the excessive use of parentheses (I really tried hard to accept them…sorry, couldn’t resist), but in contrast to the picturesque words outside those marks, it was well worth getting used to.

Marguerite Johnson, now Dr. Maya Angelou, recalls her nomadic childhood.  Born in St.Louis, Missouri, she is sent with her brother to Stamps, Arkansas to live with her paternal grandmother.  She depicts her life as a black child living in the south in the early 1930’s, feeling abandoned by her parents and trying to understand her place in the world.  Maya recounts her rape by her mother’s boyfriend after returning to her in St. Louis.  The man is later murdered and Maya responds with muteness which heightens her interest in reading.  Back to Arkansas, Maya is fortunate to meet women who influence her in very positive ways.  Without giving it all away, Angelou’s honest account of her childhood delivers a great tale with aplomb.

Older brother, Bailey Johnson, Jr., is Maya’s guardian.  Without their parents, they have become dependent and reliant on one another and Bailey is definitely one to have on your side.  An avid reader like his sister, he understands her love of the written word and is content to spend time with his sister and some reading material.  As he is shuttled back and forth, his love for his mother reveals itself to be quite strong when he returns home late from a movie he viewed twice as it was  starring a woman who resembles his Mother Dear.  At age 16, while living with his mother in California, the mother/son conflicts escalate and he cuts the apron string and sets out on his own, no longer champion to his little sister.

Mother to Maya and Bailey, Jr., Vivian Baxter is a colorful woman who earns a living playing cards.  She is strong and self-sufficient and expects the same of others, including her children.  While somewhat distracted, her love for her children is evident.  She treats Maya and Bailey with respect and listens astutely, never too quick to react.  She enjoys her life and expects those around her to live their lives with equal enthusiasm.



I sensed a wrongness around me, like an alarm clock that had gone off without being set.

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

I find it interesting that the meanest life, the poorest existence, is attributed to God’s will but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begins to ascent the material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at a commensurate speed.

The unsaid words pushed roughly against the thoughts that we had no craft to verbalize, and crowded the room to uneasiness.

I would love to hear Ms. Angelou read from this book and while I found she has already done a recording, I’d like to hear it in her presence.  While I feel she is a true poet at heart, her writing is so skillful that I’d have to attempt to cull some advice from her.  I’d also love to hear more about her brother who she so obviously adored.  Perhaps we could take a ride on the SF trolley and chat a while.

My rating for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings  is an 8 out of 10.

Please share your own reviews or  comments by using the link below.

Next up, Stephen Crane’s  The Red Badge of Courage



Filed under I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

2 responses to “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

  1. Read this book a few years ago myself. My grandfather grew up in Stamps and actually delivered bread to Angelou’s grandmother’s store and knew her uncle. I read it because I knew this town, still having family living there, and found it interesting. However, according to my grandfather, places and people are inaccurate but did state that the treatment of blacks was just as true as she depicted.

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