Book Review: I Know Why The Caged Birds Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why The Caged Birds Sings
by Maya Angelou

Publication date: 1984
Publisher: Virago
Pages: 281


In this first volume of her extraordinary autobiography, Maya Angelou beautifully evokes her childhood in the American South of the 1930s. She and her brother live with their grandmother, in Stamps, Arkansas, where Maya learns the power of the ‘whitefolks’ at the other end of town. A visit to her adored mother ends in tragedy when Maya is raped by her mother’s lover. But her extraordinary sense of wholeness emerges; she discovers the pleasures of dance and drama and gives birth to a treasured son.

Source: Goodreads


“I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” is a personal account of the childhood of Maya Angelou. Growing up in the 1930s as a young black woman, this story is filled with abuse, cruelty, bigotry, racism and fear. But it’s not all negative, with a good family, confidence and good morals behind her, we watch a little girl grow into someone special.

It’s my understanding that this book is passed out in schools as compulsory reading for children. I’d actually not heard of it until very recently, but hunted a copy down shortly after learning about it.

I enjoyed the story and see it’s importance in history and culture but it didn’t keep me gripped the whole way through and I did find some sections a little boring. The narrative isn’t structured, jumping back and forth through the early years of Maya’s life through a number of stories. Each story is descriptive and detailed in its own right, but I often felt I wanted a little more of somethings and a little less of others.

That said, this autobiography is vivid and I certainly enjoyed learning about the topic. I have great respect for Angelou’s bravery in writing such an honest story and going through some terrible life experiences. Some of these stories are brutal yet fascinating, opening my eyes to things I know little about.

Overall rating: This autobiography of Maya Angelou is filled with brutality, but it’s also filled with love. “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” is a truly fascinating insight into life for a black family living in the South of America in the 1930s.  I’ll be giving this one 3 stars because, despite my respect for the author, it’s not a book I enjoyed reading for it’s style and structure.

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