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Feminist Book Club: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Book choice by August MISSives guest editor, Apoorva Kallianpur

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the childhood memoir of Dr Maya Angelou who grew up in the segregated rural community of Stamps, Arkansas during the depression.  It explores the themes of abandonment, racial prejudices, sexual assault and the effects of trauma and shame experienced by survivors.

Blurb: “Loving the world, she also knows its cruelty.  As a black woman she has known discrimination and extreme poverty, but also hope, joy, achievement and celebration.  She learns the power of white folks at the other end of town, and suffers the terrible trauma of rape by her mother’s lover”.  

From the eyes of a young Black woman, the audience are exposed to the extreme racial injustice prevalent in the 1930s. Angelou recounts her disabled uncle hiding under a bag of potatoes within her grandmother’s store to avoid the Ku Klux Klan, and the anger she felt when working as a maid for a white woman who attempted to rename her to “Mary” as “Margaret” was too long, despite her birthname actually being Marguerite. 

The autobiography also focuses on the intersectional discrimination experienced by Angelou as a young Black female, and how her experience differed from her brother’s.  However, she overcomes these barriers through her strength of character and her longing for freedom. This is a raw, simply articulated memoir which uses the recurring metaphor of the caged bird to represent the historic struggle of the Black community under racist oppression.    

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