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


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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou was challenged quite often due to the poet’s descriptions of being raped as a young girl and because it “preaches bitterness and hatred against whites.” This autobiographical novel dealing with incest has been consistently challenged for containing profanity and pornographic language. The novel was accused by a Texas school of containing “gross evils.”

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Meels We had it as assigned reading in my high school. But, that's Texas for you! There are great things about the people there, and some things that are just archaic. I can see why they wouldn't want children under a certain age reading it, due to it's content, but it is real and should not be censored.


message 3: by Amanda (last edited Dec 21, 2007 04:40PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amanda It amazes me that anyone would want to ban this book. I loved reading it when I was in 9th grade (approx 14 y.o.) and could understand why Ms. Angelou wrote about white people (the opressors of her community) the way she did. She was not preaching hatred, she was recounting how things were and how she experienced them.
And yes, bad things happened to her, but bad things DO happen to people and knowing that is good for kids. There is also kindness, love and humor in this book. The scene in the church where a parishioner 'gets the spirit' and whops the preacher with her purse is hysterical. I got in trouble while reading that section in study hall, my smothered laughter was disturbing those around me...according to Sr. Owens.


Molly Typical. It doesn't surprise me at all that Texas would oppose of this book. The "gross evils" discussed in this book are true evils and they should not be banned. Yes, an age limit should be set due to the graphic language but I read this book when I was 14 and had no problem dealing with the slight vulgarity at times. It's a wonderful book that should be read by all.


Laura It's not just Texas that can have a problem. I had my seniors read this as outside reading for our Comp I Honors class here in Las Vegas, NV, and the day of the exam I had parents in the office complaining, and reporting me to the main office. Nevermind that there IS no "approved" book list, etc. the main office said I should have provided an alternate. The girl whose parents yelled the loudest read "Old Man and the Sea" and tested on that. Anecdotally, of the 4 books my students read in Comp, they scored the highest on that exam.
Oh, and I should mention that it was reading an online SUMMARY (that was a rather pornographic depiction of the molestation) that caused her and her parents consternation - she never actually cracked open the book.


Deanne I've just read this book as it was on the 1001 books you must read before you die. It's in good company as Lady Chatterley's lover is also there, a book which was banned in the UK from 1929-1963 under the obscene publications act. It was published after a court case, think the ban was more to do with Mellors being working class then the sex.
Having read the book I was surprised that it was described as preaching hatred to whites.
Have to say there are worse books out there than this one.



Bridget I am african American and I believe this book should be banned by public schools or there should be written consent to read it if it is read by children under the age of 18. It takes a bit of maturity to read this book, especially concerning the molestation. I read this book when I was about 15 and I wished I had waited to read it because it was too emotionally strong for my young sheltered upbringing and maturity level.


message 8: by M (new) - rated it 3 stars

M Yeah...at 60 plus the other side of youthful naivete..I didn't find it preached hatred of whites at all..preaching means to cajole persons to influence them.. Ms. Angelou told the story of emotional pain. The difference is that it is in technicolor. I thought writers were supposed to take the readers on a journey..great book, which I did wait to read until later in life.


message 9: by Adam (new) - rated it 1 star

Adam I hated reading this book, but it absolutely should not be banned.


Reign* I've read this book several times. Once in late teens, again in my 30's then 40's and now 50's. It was good in the 70's and it's still good in 2011 and beyond.


message 11: by Miso (new) - rated it 5 stars

Miso I read the book and the time I was dealing with horrible news that my brother was molested by a family member at the age of 10.... As painful as it was to read it but it help me to put things into perspective a little bit.
And whether we like it or not, these things happen in our lives, so why not put it in a book!?


message 12: by Emma (new) - rated it 3 stars

Emma Debruyne First of all I don't think Maya Angalou preaches hatred against whites but writes about being proud to be black. Second of all somebody sould decide for him- or herself werether you should read this book. Everebody knows obout the rape in the book (or so I presume) and you should know werether you can handle it. I don't think the scene was that explicid and onestly I've read worst things in books ment for teanagers (age 12-13). But I understand Bridget when she says it was to violent for her to read that's how she expirenced it. But I really don't think this book should be banned afterall this really happend and you shouldn't close your eyes fot the trouth no matter how shocking it is.


message 13: by Dawn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dawn I do not think this book should be banned. If someone wants to ban this book on the reasons it preaches hatred toward whites, then maybe they didn't live in this area of the United States during this time. I believe there is a reason blacks were mistrusting of whites; I think they had every right to be. This is an honest story of how a black girl grew up in this time period, in this place and if it has some unpleasant events that is because there were unpleasant events taking place. It is part of history in our country, like it or not.


Global Donnica People are still in denial about history... it has residual effects...


LindaJ^ I'm always amazed that any book is banned - only makes one want to read it even more to see what the fuss is about. I like all Maya Angalou's books. She has a perspective that I do not and I appreciate that. I think “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is an excellent choice for high school English classes.


Global Donnica We in America are still in denial about history and te past. Also because of the ssyetm that has been setup...perspectives are different...

Just look at the depth of black writers and the experience from whence they speak and write rom ... whole different perspective...pain... joy...many cannot begin to relate...


Christina I very much loved this book and it was not until it was an assigned reading book in college that I read it. I think that there takes a level of maturity and experience to understand, embrace, and connect with her. While my child is very young, I can say that I would not want him to read this book when he is in high school. I think the style it is written in is geared towards a more mature audience. However, I do think there are youths that are far beyond their years and have experienced adversity in a way that they would not only grasp and relate to this story, but could draw hope. However, I would like it to be given to my child as an adult more so than a child.


Global Donnica As an author she is an intense one and all of her books are an intense read...

Her depth of knowledge and wisdom comes from much of her views on life..experiences...travels...


message 19: by Dawn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dawn I have read some real life autobiographies that are written by white authors that are just as or more "graphic" as Maya Angelou's and I have not heard one thing about their books being banned. I don't believe in this day and age we really have to worry about not being able to read her book.

If someone doesn't like her as an author, they can choose to read something else. This was the first of her books I have read and I plan to read the rest of them because I enjoyed her writing style and her story.


Global Donnica We have still a long way to go...


Sarah Why are books even banned. At least in America. Isn't that freedom of speach?


Deanna Roberts what happened to her was real, she was raped at a young age so why is it seen as 'evils' or whatever if it actually happened, she is describing a real life event, graphically yes but it's like a news report describing a crime scene. It may be different, I suppose if it was a fictional scene.


Global Donnica Dawn wrote: "I do not think this book should be banned. If someone wants to ban this book on the reasons it preaches hatred toward whites, then maybe they didn't live in this area of the United States during t..."


We here in America are still in denial about alot of things...


Danielle I read "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" in 10th grade. Yes, it's graphic and younger people should probably wait to read it but it should definately NOT be banned. The "gross evils" mentioned are real and sadly not uncommon. A lot of people are upset over her details because 1. they are graphic and 2. they don't want to be reminded that this happens. They're worried about a book? I've seen worse on t.v.


message 25: by Ang (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ang Danielle wrote: "I read "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" in 10th grade. Yes, it's graphic and younger people should probably wait to read it but it should definately NOT be banned. The "gross evils" mentioned are ..."

True, we see worse on TV.


Kristan Kennedy Where are all the First Amendment Founding Father Constitution Lovers in this debate? In Mississippi, ratifying the 13th Amendment just LAST WEEK? Or hanging out with the U.S Supreme Court debating whether we still need a Voter's Rights Act? If anyone thinks racism is yesterday's news, they need to read more of Maya Angelou.

Donnica wrote: "Dawn wrote: "I do not think this book should be banned. If someone wants to ban this book on the reasons it preaches hatred toward whites, then maybe they didn't live in this area of the United St..."

deleted user wrote: "“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou was challenged quite often due to the poet’s descriptions of being raped as a young girl and because it “preaches bitterness and hatred against whi..."


message 27: by Gary (last edited Jul 23, 2014 05:51PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Blueturtles wrote: "Why are books even banned. At least in America. Isn't that freedom of speach?"

You would think so, wouldn't you?

Actually, the argument made these days is that certain books should be banned from school libraries and, occasionally, from public libraries, not necessarily banned outright. Upon occasion there is a publicity stunt in which people burn copies of a book, but they actually have to purchase those copies first, or they've committed larceny.

When it comes to schools and libraries there are some slightly different rules as those are publicly funded institutions. Free speech does not mean you get to have your speech in every possible venue on the taxpayer's dime. I would argue, for instance, that Playboy doesn't belong in elementary school libraries, but I'd never argue that it shouldn't exist at all. In fact, I'm pretty sure the publishers of Playboy would agree with me on that one....

Nonetheless, it is amazing how many people will extend the logic that SOME things are not appropriate and use it for issues that they have a problem. They even seem to pick and choose amongst the titles that have such issues with no rhyme or reason. The same arguments made against almost every attempt to censor a book could be made against the Bible, given the contents of that text, but nobody seems to want to make that connection.

At this point, though, I think we need to recognize that anyone with access to the Internet is just a couple of clicks away from some pretty provocative stuff. Attempts to censor sex and violence in prose seem pretty obviously doomed. Given that, I can't help but suspect that most of these efforts to ban a book are really just an attempt to get publicity and attention. They should be recognized for what they are, and those who perpetrate them should be thrown out of office for violating the public trust, or simply recognized as incompetent fools more interested in their own aggrandizement than in "protecting" people from the thing they describe.


Margaret DC Donnica wrote: "As an author she is an intense one and all of her books are an intense read...

Her depth of knowledge and wisdom comes from much of her views on life..experiences...travels..."

Although I Know Why the caged Bird Sings is one of my favorite books of all time, I agree with Donna that I would prefer for my own children to read it in college rather than in high school... I'm not so worried about kids who may have had the experiences Dr. Angelou describes in the book.. I'm more concerned that other students would discover a student who may have experienced the same trauma and react by teasing, taunting, harassing, etc. I think students in college are much more able to handle the insensitivities of others.


Sommer r A book should never be banned. I do feel there could be a rating system for children's assigned reading in school. I would not want my child watching a rated R movie in school without warning. A rating system for age appropriate material is good for guidance and what people feel comfortable reading about. Why do they not rate books like they do for movies?


Tammy Crago Bridget wrote: "I am african American and I believe this book should be banned by public schools or there should be written consent to read it if it is read by children under the age of 18. It takes a bit of matu..."

Unfortunatly children are molested under the age of 18. Life can be great but they also need to know that there are bad people out there who do bad things. I agree there should be a age limit, however there are children getting molested at a very early age. Its a very hard subject. You dont want to make them afraid of everyone but you have to make then aware of the dangers.


Susan Wow! A woman who is angry about the social injustices, racism, and misogyny that she experienced. How 'evil'!

Seriously, would the evils not be the injustices, racism, and, misogyny not be the true evils? Is the brushing it all under the rug and hoping it will go away attitude not contributing to the problem? Would the world not benefit from the discussion of these evils, and hopefully how to prevent them in the future?

No, young children generally should not read this book as they would not be able to understand and process it. However, Gr. 10s are teenagers and likely really would get it.


message 32: by Kalika (last edited Jul 08, 2014 05:14PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kalika Kalika I read this book as a young woman around the time it was first published, way back in the 20th Century. I read it again a few months ago when Maya Angelou transitioned. It was as good a read as when I first read it. And to hear people say it should be banned is absurd. And the fact some think it preaches hatred of whites is preposterous. I think the reader was projecting their own fear and guilt onto it by thinking that way. Go read your history books. There you will find plenty of hatred against both whites and blacks, yet those books have not been banned. Go figure.


message 33: by Aura (new) - rated it 5 stars

Aura Good literature should disturb us, should incite us, should makes us think. Maya did all these things in her writing. I think TX legislators do not want education. They want indoctrination, that is, reciting a set of facts that tell the story that is comfortable to hear. Thinking may cause people to question. TX and other states ban books and control the content of text books for this reason.


Kalika Kalika Aura wrote: "Good literature should disturb us, should incite us, should makes us think. Maya did all these things in her writing. I think TX legislators do not want education. They want indoctrination, that i..."

Girl, you are speaking my language. And we don't ask enough questions. Please read my Blog.


message 35: by Mo (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mo This was one of the most important books that I have ever read. It is a classic. I find it absolutely bizarro that so many male authors have written of books that included the topic of rape and have also written fairly graphicly about this and many other forms of torture as well in their fiction books, but a brilliant American Classic such as this book, could be banned. It is most difficult to the heart to refer to Maya Angelo in the recent past tense, and even as I do, I know she will always live on through the shining body of literature, prose and poetry that she created with her very life'sblood. I have nothing but gratitude to have lived in a time when I could read the work, and watch the interviews of this brilliant soulful, huge-hearted spiritual-giant of a woman.


Fiona Hurley I think it's important to distinguish between banning a book, including it in a school library, and discussing it in a classroom setting.
I think we're all in agreement that it shouldn't be banned. I don't even think that terrible books like Mein Kampf should be banned, so of course this life-affirming piece of literature shouldn't be banned!
For school libraries, that's up to the school board, but I think it would be a good addition to the school library for students who are mature enough. And sadly, some students will identify with the themes of racism and rape, and they may draw strength from the way that Angelou overcame her experiences.
However, it's probably not a good book for in-class discussion. Maybe at college level, but not secondary/high school. The subjects may be distressing or triggering for some students, so they should have the choice about whether or not to read this book.


message 37: by Mo (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mo Perhaps it would be more important for in-class discussion at the secondary/high school level with a teacher in attendance to moderate the discussion, rather than students accessing the book in isolation by themselves through the library alone. Just another perspective on your thoughtful submission on this topic.
If perhaps in-class discussion would be uncomfortable, perhaps it could be on an optional book report list?


Barbara Wade I love this book. I read it as an adult and have reread it. I had no idea that the state of Texas banned it. Those "gross evils" exist. Denial does not expose what is real. Her molestation helped to expose a very real problem in this country and elsewhere. It would be a travesty to ban this book because she also exposes some of the stories of some of the people who reacted with racism which is pervasive everywhere in the USA. For example, she had some interesting stories about the West coast in the 1940s. If we don't speak about racism and molestation openly, aren't we going to keep repeating the same horrific behavior? Also as literature her writing sometimes reads like poetry, which is a treasure to read.


message 39: by Courtney (last edited Dec 18, 2014 11:57AM) (new)

Courtney VanHorn I agree that perhaps there should be an age limit to reading this book, however sexual violence is graphic and you cannot expect anything less of a nonfiction account. I think it is important for survivors to voice their experiences so that others who have not experienced such trauma may better understand. To silence the voice of those who have been through such a horrible experience will only serve to perpetrate the violence further. Literature is not meant to be soft. It is meant to tell of experiences and evoke emotion, which Angelou does well. She FELT something and wrote about it. As a fellow writer, I understand that when situations like this occur, writing about them is both a way of coping and a way of overcoming. Angelou's account is truthful and brave, and I wish harm on any who try to stifle her story. Yes, this account may be graphic for some ages, but it is important that high schoolers understand that these things happen and how they make people feel. It angers me greatly that her TRUE story is being banned because it offends people. Those offended by Angelou's story perhaps should put their energies towards working to prevent sexual abuse rather than furthering it's perpetration.


message 40: by Jai (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jai I agree with most people. This book should NOT be banned. How can you ban someone's memoirs? I think they wanted it banned because they wanted to have her remain voiceless. I actually read the book when I was about 13, which most people whould consider way too young but I was mature and that's what I think parents should consider when having their children read a book...the specific level of maturity. Hell in 6th grade(age 12) we had sex ed. I never really lived a sheltered life and sometimes people who have lived sheltered lives don't want to know about real life problems and they just want to continue to be oblivious to others around them.


message 41: by Phil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phil Bridget wrote: "I am african American and I believe this book should be banned by public schools or there should be written consent to read it if it is read by children under the age of 18. It takes a bit of matu..."

Why does it "take a bit of maturity" to understand molestation, but at any age you can experience it? Why do adults not want to read and explain molestation to their children, but "Uncle Bob" and been molesting a nephew for years? So we continue to deny molestation. Is that the best measure of our lives we can offer to those ignorant of it? I am 64, white, father of 3, grandfather to 9; I have friends, loved ones that have been molested. If I am unable to discuss this with my grandchild, can the school not recommend an autobiographical reading of molestation? I think they can and should.


message 42: by Kat (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kat Newman I read this is 9th grade. It was very descriptive but gave me a good idea of what people had gone thought. That i should be luck to not have to deal with a life like that. It defiantly shouldn't be banned. I also lived in Alabama at the time and it was in the High school library.


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