On the Southern Literary Trail discussion

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou's Autobiography, #1)
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Group Reads: Pre-1980 > Final Impressions: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou – February 2020

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message 1: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tom Mathews | 2555 comments Mod
Comments on this board are made with the assumption that readers have finished the book and may include spoilers.


Judi | 421 comments Hello out there! I guess I am the only member on The Southern Literary Trail that "read" I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Maya Angelou chronicles her early childhood in the most racist decades in United States history. This book certainly raised my awareness regarding those times. The audible version is read by Maya Angelou and she gives her story a visceral, strong voice.


message 3: by Randall (new)

Randall Luce | 134 comments I read it two months ago for a local discussion group. Some people in the Initial Impressions thread are listening to Maya Angelou's audio version. With her strong voice, that should be an experience.

It's interesting that, though a memoir, Angelou puts some events out of chronological order to achieve a more "thematic" flow. The incident with the "poor white" children who mock Maya Angelou's grandmother outside her store, for example: she placed it "before" it's chronological place in the story. Her grandmother's spiritual strength in enduring those insults is one of the highlights of the book for me (another is her righteous anger at the white dentist who refuses to treat Maya Angelou's cavity).

Angelou leads the book off with a very powerful episode of her reciting a poem during an Easter service. She's wearing a "repurposed" dress that, when her grandmother was sewing it, looked to be something a movie star would wear, but

"Easter's early morning sun had shown the dress to be a plain ugly cut-down from a white woman's once-was-purple throw-away.... The age faded color made my skin look dirty like mud .... Wouldn't they all be surprised when one day I woke out of my black ugly dream, and my real hair, which was long and blond, would take the place of the kinky mass that Mama wouldn't let me straighten?... Then they would understand why I had never picked up a Southern accent, or spoke the common slang, and why I had to be forced to eat pig tails and snouts. Because I was really white ...."

Maya Angelou is telling her readers right off to buckle up, because this is going to be a wild and very honest ride. She highlights her sense of alienation from the southern milieu she was shipped off to, and of her sense of herself as an ugly child, but the biggest gut punch, to me, is her confession of her dream of whiteness. But she really doesn't go into this in the rest of the book. Indeed, she displays a consistent racial pride throughout the other tales of her childhood. I would've liked to seen something about how and when she woke from this "dream" (nightmare?). She does discuss her sense of physical awkwardness--her skinny, curveless body and long legs--and this probably contributed to that "dream" (and maybe also the beauty of her white-looking mother did as well), but it would have been very interesting to see how she got from that first scene to, for example, her reactions on her graduation day (in chapter 23).

Also, props to her Mama, her grandmother in Stamps. She practically steals the whole show.


Jane | 738 comments This is one of my favorites that I used to teach for years a must absolutely


Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 211 comments Randall wrote: "I read it two months ago for a local discussion group. Some people in the Initial Impressions thread are listening to Maya Angelou's audio version. With her strong voice, that should be an experien..."

Randall, I loved reading your comment. It encapsulates why I love this book and took me back to the feelings I had when I listened to it last year. Thanks!


Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 211 comments I'm wondering if any of you have read her follow-on memoirs?? The next in the series of seven (7!!) is Gather Together in My Name. I have not, but this is a good reminder that I had intended to read others.


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