Date Completed: 1/29/2017
How do I even find the words to explain Maya Angelou’s memoir? She’s so beautifully well-versed and eloquent. At once sad and uplifting, Angelou’s memoir rings true to her person, filled with stories that make up who she is. She broaches every subject from religion to growing up Southern and black, from sexual assault to friendship.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a good starting point for me in terms of Angelou’s works. I’m not much of one for poetry, but I love memoir. Now that I’ve experienced her storytelling capability, I can’t wait to read more of her books. Her descriptions are vivid and consuming, take for example,
“Their remarks and responses were like a Ping-Pong game with each volley clearing the net and flying back to the opposition. The sense of what they were saying became lost, and only the exercise remained. The exchange was conducted with the jerkiness of Monday’s wash snapping in the wind – now cracking east, then west, with only the intent to whip the dampness out of the cloth.”
There were definitely parts of this book that were difficult to read. Angelou speaks specifically about several instances of sexual assault that she experienced. These scenes were heartbreaking, as Angelou takes a look at how children feel through these types of experiences. She makes it clear that not everybody reacts the same way, and her experience, although tragic, may be a beneficial read for those who have a similar past or for those who are seeking to understand what it feels like.
Angelou also speaks frankly about times when she has been slighted or even attacked due to the color of her skin. She handles most things with such grace, but I believe it is the times when she is the most angry and hurting that reveal something deeper and more truthful about society.
“The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power. The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste, and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.”
I met somebody recently who said they didn’t want to read a book written by a black woman because they could not relate to it, as a white man. I wish people stepped outside of what they can relate to more often. I wish people dove into books that they cannot relate too more often to try to listen on their own terms and understand in their own time. I love reading books that have nothing to do with me, or even very little to do with me, because they expand my understanding of the world. I want to know how each person in the world sees everything, and besides talking with people directly, reading, and particularly reading memoirs, can provide that sweet sweet insight that I crave. I hope everyone will read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, if only to start delving into a different experience than their own. .
Maya Angelou is amazing and incredibly famous. She’s written tons of poetry, memoir, fiction, etc. She was born in 1928 in St. Louis (!!!) and raised in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas. You really should read this memoir, but also check out her beautiful website.