I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou writes beautifully and from the heart in the autobiography of her sometimes happy but often painful childhood. When their parents divorced, she and her brother, Bailey, were sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. She was just 5 years old, Bailey, 4.

Their grandmother was an exceptional woman, kind but strict. The children helped in the general store she owned and ran in the small, tight-knit all-Black community.

Angelou tells of going to visit her mother in St. Louis and being raped by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. The 8-year-old child was so traumatized that she refused to speak for several years. She recovered when a teacher, who understood her love of books, encouraged her to read out loud.

Her teenage yeas were difficult. Angelou grew to be six feel tall, had no self-confidence, believed she was ugly, and had been stung more than once by bigotry.  In her late teens, she visited her mother again, this time in California. As a result of a one-time encounter, which she initiated to try and reassure herself that she was “lovable,” she became pregnant.  The result was “her greatest gift,” her son, Guy.

Angelou went on to become a renowned writer of both books and poetry. She wrote and read a poem at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. All of her works are written in a direct, personal, sometimes humorous style. She was a civil rights activist, sometimes working alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. She also was an educator, a playwright, a singer, composer and dancer; she earned numerous honorary doctorates. Angelou died in May of 2014.

—Gail Allen

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