I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the first of seven memoirs that Maya Angelou wrote. This book tells of her life from childhood to the age of seventeen - the years 1928 to 1945. The story is a harsh and sad one, dealing with poverty, racism, abandonment, rape, sexual abuse, and teenage pregnancy. It is inspirational not in its writing but in the fact that Maya Angelou had courage to live this life, to move forward from the events described, and to tell the story in such a public way.
I really can't imagine that I would have cared much for the art of Basquiat if the editor hadn't done such a fabulous job of pairing the words with the pictures. The result feels like a close collaboration, rather than an after-the-fact pairing. Nice back matter, for those who care, too.
And a shout-out to my local librarians who always find new books to tempt me with in their displays, even when I'm in bit of a reading slump.
I rarely read poetry because I have difficulty connecting with it. But this collection, on audio, is performed by the author herself, and hearing it in her own voice is profoundly moving. It gave me the opportunity to experience some of her less widely known work. Some of my favorites:
I was also delighted to hear her actually sing parts of several spirituals that were the inspiration for the poem she wrote for Clinton’s inauguration.
Audiobook version, on CD (ISBN 0375420177), that I purchased on a sale rack years ago. Looking it up online just now in hopes of getting some audio samples to link to, I was amazed at the prices, but it looks as though it’s commonly available at public libraries, per WorldCat.
For the Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season book challenge, Task the Fifth: The Kwanzaa (Read a book written by an African-American author or set in an African country
I enjoyed this more than Angelou's first memoir, which won't be a surprise to anyone who knows my tastes, because in this book she's a teenager/young adult while in the first she was a child. Adults make for active protagonists, while children are passive. So I enjoyed the content more and therefore appreciated the writing more. It's a short, quick read and kept me engaged, though, as in the first book, events sometimes seem disconnected from each other, and Angelou's tone can be so wry and detached that it's hard to tell how the events of her life affected her; when she does write about her feelings, there's often a sense of amusement behind it. I wanted a little more, especially since some of the events are so outlandish they're hard to believe (a naive teenager stumbles into opening a brothel and pressuring a couple of part-time hookers into staffing it? Whaaaaat?). Clearly creative license is being taken - hence all that dialogue that moves the story along so quickly - and I wonder just how much. But regardless, this is an enjoyable book with a strong voice and a fresh perspective.