Synopses & Reviews
Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.
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.
Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings liberates the reader into life simply because Maya Angelou confronts her own life with such a moving wonder, such a luminous dignity.”—James Baldwin
From the Hardcover edition.
2 CDs / 3 hours
Read by the Author, Maya Angelou
Also available on cassette
Superbly told--with the poet's gift for language and observation, and charged with the unforgettable emotion of remembered anguish and love--this remarkable autobiography by an equally remarkable black woman from Arkansas captures, indelibly, a world of which most Americans are unaware of.
Expand your poetry section with the works of one of America's leading literary greats -- reissued on CD. Listen to the poems as they were meant to be heard -- from the poet herself.
She was born Marguerite, but her brother Bailey nicknamed her Maya ('mine'). As children, Maya and Bailey were sent to live with their grandmother is Stamps, Arkansas. Their early world revolved around this remarkable woman and the store she ran for the black community. Amidst the joys of Maya's childhood, the awful, unfathomable mystery of prejudice intruded. Then violence too, intruded upon Maya's world, when a visit to her mother ended in tragedy-rape. Thereafter, Maya refused to speak, except to the person closest to her, Bailey.
Reading Group Guide
1. The memoir opens with a provocative refrain: "What you looking at me for? I didn't come to stay ... " What do you think this passage says about Ritie's sense of herself? How does she feel about her place in the world? How does she keep her identity intact?
2. Upon seeing her mother for the first time after years of separation, Ritie describes her as "a hurricane in its perfect power." What do you think about Ritie's relationship with her mother? How does it compare to her relationship with her grandmother, "Momma"?
3. The author writes, "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." What do you make of the author's portrayal of race? How do Ritie and her family cope with the racial tension that permeates their lives?
4. Throughout the book, Ritie struggles with feelings that she is "bad" and "sinful," as her thoughts echo the admonitions of her strict religious upbringing. What does she learn at the end of the memoir about right and wrong?
5. What is the significance of the title as it relates to Ritie's self-imposed muteness?