Like so many in the world, I am grieving the loss of Maya Angelou, an articulate, brilliant individual who left a huge mark on the world. A literary genius whose writing captivated many generations, Angelou was also a Civil Rights activist.
I have always felt close to Angelou and wanted to meet her. While that never happened in person, I did meet her — through her outstanding, ground-breaking memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. This famous book, which debuted in 1969, was way ahead of its time and tackled serious issues considered taboo at the time.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings covers Angelou’s growing up in Stamps, Arkansas, and St. Louis and without sound guidance from her parents. Angelou and her brother Bailey were raised in large part by their grandmother. Angelou’s life in the segregated, racist South is documented in this very human book with memorable truth-telling. I will never forget the scene when a white dentist refuses to help a young Maya suffering from a toothache. And a young Maya suffers a horrific tragedy that no one should have to go through. The trauma left her unable to speak for years. Ironically, it was after being voiceless for awhile that she eventually found her voice.
The book is a powerful testament to human triumph through adversity.
Angelou also infuses a great deal of humor in her memoir. In fact, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings contains the funniest scene I’ve read in a book to date. I won’t give it away to those who haven’t yet read the memoir, but here’s a hint: it happens in a church. Completely hilarious.
I’ve assigned this book to students many times, and the memoir resonated with each student every single time. Times have changed, but her memoir is timeless. Angelou’s book is life-changing: it changed me. And I hope somewhere out in the world my former students are remembering how Angelou changed their world in an English class. And I hope that these students are changing the world for the better, as Angelou would want them to do.
The world has lost a wonderful human being, a soulful soul. She touched us in so many ways. But I’m heartened to know that the world was made a better place for having had her in it.
What is your favorite Maya Angelou work?
Feel free to comment on how this amazing woman has touched your life.
Tags: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou