I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

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.
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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

Inaugural Poet. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. This made her the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost in 1961.