This is the second book review for Banned Books Week 2015 from Gwen Osborne, Director of Public Affairs:
Before her death last year at age 86, Maya Angelou had begun work on the eighth book in her multi-volume memoir.
Angelou led a colorful life that included work as San Francisco’s first African-American streetcar conductor, a brothel madam, an Alvin Ailey dancer, a civil rights activist and a poet. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969, is the first book in the autobiographical series.
The book recalls events in Angelou’s childhood in Stamps, Arkansas and St. Louis, Missouri. Like many works in African-American literature, birds are used as a metaphor for freedom. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings takes its title from a line in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s 1899 poem “Sympathy.” (In 1983, Angelou published her own poem, “Caged Bird,” as a variation on that theme.)
Despite spending two years on the New York Times paperback bestseller list and being nominated for a National Book Award, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is one of the most banned and/or challenged books in America for its language and portrayals of violence, racism, sexuality, childhood rape and teen pregnancy.