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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou's Autobiography #1)

4.16  ·  Rating Details  ·  247,322 Ratings  ·  5,555 Reviews
Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-su
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Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 21st 2009 by Ballantine Books (first published 1969)
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Tess Read the book for yourself first. If you, her parent, are not comfortable with her reading it then that should be what your decision is based on. You…moreRead the book for yourself first. If you, her parent, are not comfortable with her reading it then that should be what your decision is based on. You know the maturity level of your child and what concepts they are ready to process. This could be an opening for you to have a talk about important topics/issues and establish an open door relationship. This is no where near as gritty as a romance novel which middle school libraries have started carrying and it is written for educational purposes. Personally, I believe this is a good book for someone going into seventh grader. (less)
Kathleen Miller I have research all over and could not find a Malayalam version of this book! Sorry - hope you find one somewhere.
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Arthur Graham
I must confess I've read precious little Angelou in my time, but I'll never forget the day she tipped me $20.

It was some random gray day in Marquette, Michigan, must've been the winter of '00, and I was washing dishes as usual at the downtown Landmark Inn. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "hey, there's a VIP coming in, put on your bellboy hat and head out front." I didn't put on my bellboy hat because I didn't have one — just the same dirty, drenched apron I wore every day in that yea
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Brad
Jun 26, 2008 Brad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. It was required reading for a University course I took on Adolescent Literature.

This book has been placed on banned book lists by needlessly close-minded people for it's real life content.

The book tastefully addresses issues of molestation, rape, racism. But it does so within the context of the trials and tribulations of growing up as well.

The book presents things in a direct and extremely vivid fashion, but it is not garishly or needlessly graphic. These are issues
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Brian
May 28, 2014 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

My mother could never really speak to me about the abuse she suffered as a little girl - the closest we came to talking about her experiences occurred when we read this painful and important book together. I imagine that Maya's book has allowed countless women who have suffered similar horrors an opportunity to know they will never be alone in their pain. And perhaps, like my mother, an opportunity to begin to heal by sharing their story with a loved one.

RIP, Maya. Your words have made this plan
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Dawn
May 22, 2014 Dawn rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
May 2014: I wrote this review a year and a half ago. It is written from the perspective of a parent who cares about what her teenage children read in school. I hope it may be useful to other parents, teens, and anyone else who cares about content and wants to make informed decisions about what they read. I received mostly negative reactions to my review, but also a few positive comments which encouraged me. After a year of dealing with it all, I wanted to be done and move on, so I closed the com ...more
Nandakishore Varma
Sep 09, 2015 Nandakishore Varma rated it really liked it
Caged Bird

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.


The above poem by Maya Angelou (not
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Rowena
I'm quite ashamed that it's taken me this long to read this book. Maya Angelou is so inspirational to many people so reading about her childhood and adolescence was really special. I found her autobiography tragic and also hopeful at the same time. Things have changed a lot since Angelou's childhood, such as segregation, and colourism in the black community (to an extent). The fact that she went through that period of history and is alive to see the first Black president in US history is just wo ...more
Nicole~
Oct 28, 2014 Nicole~ rated it really liked it
4.5 stars
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a personal account told in the voice of a child cleverly reconstructed by an adult narrator. Through the observations of Maya, the child, comes a coming-of-age story - a social record of a young black female growing up in the 1930s. As an historical document 'Caged Bird' covers the bigotry, cruelty, oppression and the constant threat of death that constituted daily life in the South.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed fo
...more
Jami
May 29, 2014 Jami rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In her nonfiction autobiography, Maya Angelou describes her life from her young girl life up to the birth of her first child at age 16. The book drew me in at the very beginning because of the talent Angelou has with language, scenery, and loading the moment with emotion. Another intense draw for me was the fact that it is a nonfiction book. I was constantly thinking I can’t believe she had these experiences.

(SPOILER ALERT)When Maya turned three, she and her brother, Bailey, went to live with h
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Caris
Feb 08, 2010 Caris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010
Maya Angelou has been on my mental to-read list for years. It all started one day when I helped some guy at the library find her books on the shelf. He gratefully gathered all of them up- books and audios, poetry and prose- and set off to the distant recesses of the building to enjoy them.

The specific place he went to enjoy them, apparently, was the children’s restroom, as that’s where I found all the covers torn off and unceremoniously stuffed into a trash can. I dutifully pulled them out, one
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Candi
Mar 17, 2015 Candi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The first of a series of autobiographies by Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is simultaneously heartrending and inspiring. This beautiful memoir of Ms. Angelou’s years as a child up to the age of seventeen exemplifies the resilience of a strong human spirit. Living with her grandmother, uncle, and brother in the segregated state of Arkansas during the 1930’s and early 1940’s, Maya, or Marguerite as she was called, was forced to deal with abandonment, racial prejudices, and grievous ...more
Stephanie
Oct 10, 2014 Stephanie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: noone
Recommended to Stephanie by: Classics Bookclub at 5 Minutes for Books Blog
Shelves: classics, 2009, memoir
When I picked up I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou I knew two things:

1. The author is friends with Oprah and the Clintons.
2. The book is considered a classic.

The book is mostly set in the tiny town of Stamps, Arkansas. I lived much of my childhood within an hour's drive of Stamps so I found that detail very interesting.

The account of life as a Negro (the term Ms. Angelou uses) in rural Arkansas was fascinating. Some of it brought to mind memories of my own childhood (though I am "l
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Jean
Mar 08, 2015 Jean rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jean by: Donald
I have only ever given 5 stars to two autobiographies. One was written by a white English man; the other by a black American woman. On the surface you would think they could have very little in common, yet they do. They both have insight and compassion, which comes through in every sentence. They have both shown enormous courage in almost intolerable situations. In short, they have a common humanity. The white man is Terry Waite. The black woman, Maya Angelou.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by M
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Willow
Jun 16, 2016 Willow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition



“What you looking at me for?
I didn’t come to stay…”


That’s how Maya Angelou’s beautifully written autobiography starts out…like a poem. Maya has a way of describing places so real that you’re there, basking in her nostalgia, your stomach growling because all the food sounds so good.

And the people, her family, are vibrant, distinct, and individual, as if Maya wrote a poem for each and every one of them. I kept thinking of Charles Dickens characters, yet these were real people Maya knew. She just
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Paul
Aug 30, 2014 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autobiography
The first of Angelou's series of autobiographies and a powerful account of growing up and coming of age in 1930s/40s America. In the background and foreground are racism, violence against women and the problem of identity. It is written with clarity and great force; there is no hiding from what you are reading.
It would be superfluous to sum up the book or outline its contents; it should be read. So I will just add a few thoughts and reflections.
Beacuse of the strong brother/sister relationship,
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Invidia
Feb 04, 2011 Invidia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001
Hmm, congratulations to Ms. Angelou on braving struggles most people wouldn't have survived. As she wrote, "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."

However, being a '90s child, the book was very anachronistic to me. I've appreciated Victorian novels tremendously, havin
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Carmen
Mar 28, 2016 Carmen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Carmen by: School
RE-READ: 06/16/2014

This is my third time reading this book.

I think that this is an important book. Angelou relates her experiences of growing up black in America. This book covers birth-16.

Even though at times this book is really painful to read (when she's raped at age 8; when she goes to the white dentist), I think it is important to read it anyway. If this were a novel I wouldn't say that. I believe you should just ignore or not read fiction books that you don't enjoy reading. (I adore Anna
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Paul
Feb 06, 2011 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, banned-book
Now that I've researched, read, and reviewed a number of banned and challenged books, I'm no longer surprised that writing about sex, particularly from a young woman's point of view, whips up fear and suppression. And there's plenty of sex in Maya Angelou's childhood memoir, starting with her rape, at the age of 9, by her mother's live-in boyfriend, continuing with her description of her mother's life as a prostitute, her adventures in Mexico while her father visits a whorehouse, her teen-aged f ...more
Carol
May 13, 2015 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this touching and tragic coming-of-age autobiography, Maya Angelou lays it all out there for everyone to see her challenging roller coaster of a life from age 3-16. While descriptively graphic in detail, the memoir also exhibits bits of humor in the narrative. I found Maya to be a kind, intelligent and courageous young girl despite her naïveté, and very fortunate to have a loving grandmother (Momma) and brother. Momma really was a tough ole bird too; the outcome of her encounter with Dentist ...more
Kirstine
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 cannot deny the importance of this work, nor would I want to. It is in many ways a great work, and I applaud Maya Angelou for her honesty, and for the courage it must have taken, not only to write this book, but to have lived
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JG (The Introverted Reader)
The first volume in Maya Angelou's autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is not an easy read. It picks up when she's three and her brother is four and they're being shipped from California to Arkansas--alone on a train. They live with their paternal grandmother for years. Maya writes poignantly and heart-breakingly, but never with self-pity, about life as an African-American girl in a segregated South.

I'm having a hard time writing this review. I occasionally run into this problem with
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Chrissie
If I ask myself if I liked the time spent with the book, the honest answer is no. I cannot even give this 2 stars. For me it was not OK.

Please note that I respect the bravery of the woman who dared to write about her life as a child and through her teens, until she becomes a woman, and how she was sexually and psychologically exploited. At the book’s end, at the age of about seventeen she was a woman and an adult. Life had hardened her. I respect her, but I am not judging her when I give the bo
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Karina E
Feb 17, 2015 Karina E rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2015
3.5 stars - A lot of wisdom and powerful memories are shared in these moving glimpses into Angelou's life and her writing is beautiful and captivating. I would have loved more though. Especially the last part of the book feels like a set up for what there was still to come.
Apokripos
May 21, 2011 Apokripos rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: to those raring to read African-American Literature, this is a good start!
Recommended to Apokripos by: the "Voice"
Defying the Odds
(A Book Review of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)


The first volume in a five part nonfiction autobiography series, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings chronicles Maya Angelou’s coming-of-age in the segregated South during the 1930’s.

“If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.”


Told in the first person reflective prose, the multi-talented Angelou r
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Bev
Mar 05, 2011 Bev rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autobiography
"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."

That quote sums up the entire experience of reading Maya Angelou's honest, heart-breaking, and wonderfully written story of growing up black in the 30s and 40s. That she can make her story so real to someone who grew up white, m
...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is a good book, but I am not in love. It is a memoir of the author’s childhood and adolescence in the 1930s and 40s, in the segregated South and later in California. It is certainly a well-written book, with vividly drawn scenes – the reader must accept a certain amount of creative license, as the book is often novelistic in its dialogue and scene-setting, but that’s easy to accept because it is skillfully done. The characterization is strong too; in some memoirs, the supporting cast is fla ...more
Shahirah Loqman
Oh where do I begin? WHY DIDN'T I READ MORE ANGELOU WHEN SHE WAS ALIVE? This is what I was mentally kicking myself for whilst reading this. This is one of the few books that truly captured my attention from start to finish. I truly think that there is something to associate with the Negro community in the early 1900's. Isn't everyone just trying to make the best living without letting the colour of their skin get in the way?

If you loved The Help or The Color Purple, this is a very good book for
...more
Stephanie Spines
Apr 14, 2013 Stephanie Spines rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
How brilliant!

Angelou is a master of prose! Her writing style is just a pleasure to read in all ways. Her imagery, use of similes, just general creativity is outstanding!

While she had a pretty devastating life, Angelou's memoir is full of joy. I mean, it is full of heartbreak and sadness too, but also notably full of happiness, laughter and joy.

My favourite aspect of this book is that Angelou creates a story of racism where the narrative is not that of victimhood, but a narrative of resistance.
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K.D. Absolutely
Jan 25, 2010 K.D. Absolutely rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nenette (I gave her a brand new copy as Christmas gift last month)
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Must Read Books Before I Die
Shelves: 1001-core, race
This is my first memoir written by an African-American woman and I like it. It's an easy read, totally devoid of steam-of-consciousness style that Miss Woolf (from my recent book before this), as Maya Angelou used first-person direct storytelling approach. However, it is not an easy-easy read because the plot is about racial struggle and it has all the depressing real-life incidents like rape at the age of 8, she and her brother being transported like animals, being abandoned by their parents tw ...more
Adira
I feel like it's hard to really rate this book as of now when I haven't read the other books in the series, but I'm going to put this read at 3.5 stars since I did enjoy the overall anecdotes that Maya Angelou shared with the readers.

It's amazing also how relevant the constant questioning by Bailey and Maya as children of "why do [whites] hate us so much?" still is in today's society when it comes to race relations even though the context of the question has changed. This can be seen in the pick
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Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Ann Johnson April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, was an American poet, memoirist, actress and an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement. In 2001 she was named one of the 30 most powerful women in America by Ladies Home Journal. Maya Angelou is known for her series of six autobiographies, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, (1969 which was n ...more
More about Maya Angelou...

Other Books in the Series

Maya Angelou's Autobiography (6 books)
  • Gather Together in My Name
  • Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas (Maya Angelou's Autobiography, #3)
  • The Heart of a Woman
  • All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes
  • A Song Flung Up To Heaven

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“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” 24113 likes
“Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.” 1182 likes
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