Monday, August 20, 2018

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was an amazing poet. That's about the extent of what I knew about her; that and Oprah Winfrey pretty much worshipped this woman. I can see why. 

An upcoming book group theme:reading a memoir, spurred me to finally read the first of Maya Angelou's many memoirs. Long considered a classic, I was ready to dive in and discover just what shaped such an extraordinary woman. 

Marguerite Johnson started life in California, but at a very young age was sent, with her brother Bailey, on a train to Stamps, Arkansas to live with their Grandmother, whom they called Momma. This was in the early 1930's, as the nation struggled with the Great Depression. Marguerite and Bailey settled in with their Momma and Uncle Willy. Momma ran a general store for their community and the children were expected to work there, go to school, do chores, and attend church. Momma ran a tight ship and was a respected member of the community. She kept her store open and thriving during the Depression through sheer grit and smarts. Marguerite's life with Momma was stable, but the times were troubling. The arrival of their father from California brought change. He took them to St. Louis to live with their beautiful, glamorous mother, and there Marguerite was raped by a man at the age of eight. She told her brother, and he told her mother. The resulting arrest and trial, and shortly thereafter murder of her rapist was more than she could bear. She decided that by speaking, she had murdered that man, so she stopped talking. Once again, Bailey and Marguerite were sent back to live in Stamps with Momma. 

There's much more to Marguerite's early life, but I couldn't get over how much had happened to her in such a short life. She identifies Mrs. Flowers as the first person who really saves her and starts her on a path towards the rest of her life, simply by reading classics to Marguerite and encouraging her to keep reading. Books and libraries were safety nets for Marguerite and Bailey and they spent a lot of time in libraries or at home reading. The power of storytelling and the written word are evident throughout this memoir. This memoir also speaks to the mood of America, the treatment of African Americans, and probably the most poignant and heartbreaking moment is when Bailey realizes what it means to be a young black boy in America. Maya's observations of the poor folk around her, and their belief that living this hardscrabble life will be rewarded in heaven are pretty profound for a young girl. 

Maya Angelou's writing is a gift. Her observations of life around her show a depth of maturity and wisdom rarely seen in one so young. Knowing where life will take her, and the people, places, and experiences she will have added to my interest in her early life-what made her and why? 

So glad I finally read this amazing memoir. I'm curious to read more, and to understand her relationship with her brother Bailey and her mother, the beautiful yet troubled woman who was in and out of her early life. To think this little girl would one day be reading her poetry at a presidential inauguration is pretty astonishing, and shows just how courageous a woman that little girl became and how far she traveled from Stamps, Arkansas. 

Rating:  5/6 for the language, writing, and simply amazing young life of Maya Angelou. She writes in a way that is more storytelling than in a cut and dried "these are the facts", which makes her young life experiences more impactful and from the heart. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

1 comment :

  1. I've read this memoir twice and other memoirs by Maya Angelou and her poetry as well. I love her writing!!

    I've had the wonderful opportunity of seeing May Angelou speak live during my life time and wow, what a treat!! She'd sing, dance, and recite her poetry as well as speak about her life. What an amazing treasure!!