Banned Books Week: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

This is the second book review for Banned Books Week 2015 from Gwen Osborne, Director of Public Affairs:

photo by York College ISLGP

photo by York College ISLGP

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.

maya angelou i know why the caged bird singsThe 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.

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