Aug. 30, 2020

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: How powerful stories can change your life

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About the Book

Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.


About the Author

Maya Angelou was an American author, actress, screenwriter, dancer, poet and civil rights activist best known for her 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made literary history as the first nonfiction bestseller by an African American woman. Angelou received several honors throughout her career, including two NAACP Image Awards in the outstanding literary work (nonfiction) category, in 2005 and 2009. 

Maya Angelou has been a waitress, singer, actress, dancer, activist, filmmaker, writer and mother. As well as her autobiography she has written several volumes of poetry, including ‘On the Pulse of the Morning’ for the inauguration of President Clinton. She now has a life-time appointment as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.



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BIG IDEA 1 (5:42) – The power of books.

This book takes us through Maya’s childhood, from the time that her and her brother, Bailey, were packed off to live with her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. From a young age, books were her companion and gave her comfort particularly during the lonely moments of feeling like their parents abandoned them. Maya would read books with her brother Bailey during evenings in front of the fire as they escaped into the new worlds that books invited them into.

Reading books also gave her empathy and understanding of others. Classic books by white authors such as William Shakespeare gave her access to people and cultures she didn’t otherwise have access to.

Books also connected Maya to others. A neighbour, Mrs Flowers, took Maya under her wing and introduced her to poetry. The impact of this moment, of hearing poetry for the first time was pivotal and the style became a big part of her life.

BIG IDEA 2 (9:13) – The power of connection.

The connection made through relationships can be the thing that makes a world of difference, especially in challenging situations and even when those relationships are fleeting. It’s the importance of having people that believe in you. Maya spent a month living in a junkyard in San Francisco after an ill-fated trip to visit her father. She built camaraderie with other kids there as they went dancing, joined dance competitions and all other adventures they had in a short period of time. They looked after each other and believed in each other, no matter their backgrounds or reasons for being there.

There’s also the lasting relationship with her Grandmother, despite her Grandmother not always being able to express her love for them, she clearly was a very strong loving figure in Maya’s life. Her relationship with her brother was heartwarming, particularly how they looked after each other in Stamps, but also challenging as they got older and went through teenage emotions and strain in their respective relationships with their parents. Even the connection despite the confusing relationships with their parents was evident.

BIG IDEA 3 (13:33) – The power of story.

This book will take you to another place and open your eyes to the power of a story of someone’s life and show you beauty and horror at the same time. It’s a very evocative way of gaining empathy for people who have lived a very different experience than you. Throughout the book, you’ll find yourself always on the edge of your seat worrying about their safety and the sad reality of how they were treated in many situations.

A book like this will give you a perspective of a life you didn’t have. An important conversation about the way people live, lived and are treated and the impact at a global scale.

Music By: In Pulse Song by Assaf Ayalon

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