Brief Biography of Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou grew up in the segregated American south with her grandmother, an unusually well-off black store owner. She eventually left Arkansas to live with her mother and attend high school in California, where she also worked as the first black streetcar employee in San Francisco. Shortly after obtaining her high school diploma, she gave birth to her son. She was a lifelong lover of language, performance, and learning. She went on to become an accomplished dancer and performer, but is most famous for her many decorated collections of poetry and for her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. At the time of her death, Angelou was working on another autobiography. Her work addresses issues of racial and gender discrimination, and she is often hailed as one of the most important cultural critics of this century.
Historical Context of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
The book begins in the segregated American Jim Crow South of the early 20th century and ends in San Francisco, shortly after the end of WWII. This turbulent period in American history is insightfully catalogued and examined by Angelou as she recounts the events of her own life. Angelou investigates the effects of systemic segregation and racism on the minds, bodies, and identities of black individuals. In many ways I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings provides readers with a crucial account of the first half of the 20th century from the perspective of a Black southerner.
Other Books Related to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Angelou worked closely with author and civil rights activist James Baldwin in writing this memoir. The book is interesting in the importance it places on literacy and language itself, and therefore examines various kinds of writing and poetry, from Shakespeare to Dickens to Langston Hughes. The book is also an innovation on a typical autobiography, for it uses techniques and styles common in fiction, while remaining true to Angelou’s life story.
Key Facts about I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Full Title: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
When Written: 1969
Where Written: USA
When Published: 1969
Literary Period: Postwar / Contemporary
Genre: Memoir / autobiographical fiction
Setting: Stamps, Arkansas; St. Louis; California
Point of View: Maya narrates in 1st person.
Extra Credit for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings