She is so beautiful… this spirit
I have to admit, I’m probably the last to know about this remarkable woman’s mark on our history and our world. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve listened to her radio show quite a bit, so I knew a little about her. By the manner in which Oprah and her Oprah XM talkshow hosts talk about Maya Angelou, you are of the understanding that this is an incredible woman. But, I have to admit… I didn’t really know… and, now I want to know so much more.
I Know Wy the Caged Bird Sings
I am working on the Book Awards Reading Challenge II – 2008 in which I am to read five different award winning books between August 2008 and June 2009. I’ve already read and reviewed Love in the Time of Cholera, a Nobel Prize Winner. Maya Angelou won the Chubb Fellowship Award, Yale University, 1970 as well as a nomination for a National Book Award for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
As I mentioned in a prior posting Fall Into 2008 Challenge, I had decided to read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings for two reasons:
- A talkshow host on Oprah XM, I believe Dr. Robin, was discussing this book on her show. She only discussed the beginning of this story and encouraged people who haven’t read it to do so as they may be so affected that they would face future challenges in a different way.
- In reviewing Apooo’s BlogSite, I was reminded of the book… if Yasmin liked it (she listed it as one of her “all-time favorites”), I probably would as well.
- 3. It is one of the “Top 10 Banned Books” on the American Library Association’s list of banned books. As part of Banned Book Week, starts tomorrow, they recommend that you purchase, read, or re-read one of the banned books from the list.
So, the book… well… I had read many reviews on this book and did have high expectations going into it. But, I believe those expectations were sufficiently met, and then some. One thing that grabbed me the most is that, after finishing the book, I wanted to know what happened next. With her well publicized life, I’m sure I can learn about what happened rather easily. But, now I want to pick up her other works and get them into my “reading queue.”
When you go to her website and look at her bio, it’s overwhelming! She is so highly regarded and awarded, it’s incredible. In addition, she was a performer and she studied dance in San Francisco. Subsequently, she traveled the world and performed extensively. In addition, I read that:
“At the request of Martin Luther King, Jr., Miss Angelou became the Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
In looking at her bio, I also discovered that she was in Roots. I didn’t realize that was her… such a good movie. She has led a very interesting and I’m sure, fulfilled life. Also, a friend of mine sat by her on a plane once… Maya autographed one of her poems personally for her. I’m soooo jealous, now!
OK, I’m a bit star-struck and may not know my African American literature and history as well as I should.. I admit that. But, this woman seems to be absolutely amazing, not only for whats she’s done and written, but more so for her innate understanding of the human spirit and her ability to communicate it so lyrically and concisely.
AM I EVER GOING TO GET BACK TO THE REVIEW? SORRY, READERS!
Author: Maya Angelou (her birth name was Marguerite)
Book Website: www.mayaangelou.com
Publisher: Random House
This is the biography of Maya Angelou from the age of 3 until age 16. Her parents are divorced and she and her brother, Bailey, are living in Stamps, Arkansas with their devoutly Christian grandmother (her father’s mother). Her grandma, called “Momma” in the story, but I believe her name is Annie, is a wonderful woman who is the only black, woman sole proprietor in the town; she owns a store. Maya’s Uncle Willie, who was dropped as an infant by a caretaker and is now subsequently minorly crippled, also lives with Momma and the kids. The reader is introduced to the patrons of the store and the lifestyle under which they lived in the southern cotton fields, during the depression.
Soon enough, Maya’s father, also “Bailey,” comes to town. He takes the children to be with their mother in St. Louis, Missouri. It is in St. Louis and while living with their mother and her boyfriend, that Maya is raped by her mother’s boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. He tells her that if she discusses what happened to her, he’d kill her brother Bailey. Now, she tries desperately to hide what has happened to her, but falls terribly ill from the incident and is hospitalized. Subsequently, Mr. Freeman is put on trial. When Maya is asked a question, out her own inner terror, she lies to the court. Being a strong believer in God, this lie is something that she just can’t live with. Mr. Freeman is released from court before facing his one year jail sentence (good grief!), but is “mysteriously” killed that night. If you read the book, you’ll know exactly who killed him.
Because of the trauma, Maya believes that it is due to her lie that Mr. Freeman is dead. She ceases talking to anyone but her brother, Bailey. Eventually, they are shipped back to Stamps to live with Momma. In Stamps, Maya eventually comes around and begins to communicate again. Many things happen in this part of the novel and my favorite part was when Momma took her to the dentist for a terrible tooth ache. It was particularly interesting for me to read Maya’s impression of entering the “white side of town,” especially because I am white and have never really seen things through a different set of eyes. Conversely, when the topic of slavery comes up, I do understand just how horrendous and heinous America’s white man’s actions were. It makes me shake my head and think of all of the atrocities of mankind in the past, including the Holocaust, and the current day genocide in Darfur. How can one race of people see another race (or religion) as being less human than themselves? OK, topic for another day. But, on a last note, what that dentist said to Annie was so revolting that I’ll never forget it… makes me ashamed of the color of my skin to be even remotely connected to a race of people who maintained such ignorance and cruelty. I thank God that my children will never see others for the color of their skin… but, rather for the person that they are!
After spending considerable time in Stamps, the stories of which are wonderful and you really get a taste for the Southern Christian churches and revivals, Maya eventually makes her way back to her mother and lives with her in San Francisco. During her life there, her brother eventually moves out at the young age of 16. Soon thereafter, World War II commences and she sees the racial discrimination of the Japanese immigrants in San Francisco.
Maya visits her father in Southern California (I think maybe SouthOrange County or San Diego… not sure). In this visit, she thought that she was going to be visiting a rather “posh” home, but instead finds herself staying in her dad’s trailer in a trailer park with his 20-something year old live-in girlfriend named Dolores (who, by the way is a total skank and I can’t stand her). Maya and the group head to Mexico for a visit and the adventure there was another of my favorite parts of the book (read it and find out!). Eventually, Skanky Dolores gets into a physical fight with Maya and injures her. Maya ends up being shuffled out of her dad’s trailer (now, I officially hate the Dad…) to neighbors. This was supposed to be her summer with her father, for Goodness Sake! OK, OK. So, she hates that and ends up living in a junkyard in an abandoned car. There, she finds an entire community of homeless children. How they set up their self-sufficient society is very interesting.
Back in San Francisco under the safe roof of her mother, Maya wants to get a job as school, ultimately, was no longer a challenge for her. She decides that she wants to work on the street cars (i.e. trolleys), but her mother informs her that they don’t “hire colored people.” What? OK, so again, my African American history is definitely lacking! How absurd, though! Maya doesn’t take “no” for an answer and is unbelievably persistent until her goal is reached. You gotta love Maya!
Toward the end of the book, the reader is brought into Maya’s mindset on her changing body and sexual awareness. This is a very personal component of the book, so I’ll leave it there. But, in the end, she finds herself pregnant and elects to have the baby. She is successful at hiding this pregnancy until her 8th month! Wow! My girls will NEVER be able to get away with that living with me! But, her mother isn’t the typical mom and takes off for 3-4 months during the pregnancy to open up a nightclub in Alaska… leaving Maya in the house in San Francisco with her mom’s boyfriend (although, this one is a good one and a safe one). Maya, at age 16, gives birth to a son.
Favorite Quotes From the Book:
“We were on top again. We survived. The depths had been icy and dark, but now a bright sun spoke to our souls. I was no longer simply a member of the proud graduating class of 1940; I was a proud member of the wonderful, beautiful Negro race.”
“On the other side of the bridge the ache seemed to lessen as if a whitebreeze blew off the whitefolks and cushioned everything in their neighborhood-including my jaw. The gravel road was smoother, the stones smaller and the tree branches hung down around the path and nearly covered us. If the pain didn’t diminish then, the familiar yet strange sights hypnotized me into believing they had.”
“… Didn’t Moses lead the children of Isreal out of the bloody hands of Pharoah and into the Promised Land? Didn’t the Lord protect the Hebrew children in the fiery furnace and didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel? We only had to wait on the Lord.”
“At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.”
“…I thought of poor Mr. Freeman, and the guilt which lined my heart, even after all those years, was a nagging passenger in my mind.” (Oh, Maya, so not your fault… HIS!)
“… I was a loose kite in a gentle wind floating with only my will for an anchor.”
“Translated, that meant there is nothing a person can’t do, and there should be nothing a human being didn’t care about. It was the most positive encouragement I could have hoped for.”
“Life is going to give you just what you put into it. Put your whole heart in everything you do, and pray, then you can wait.”
“Without willing it, I had gone from being ignorant of being ignorant to being aware of being aware. And the worst part of my awareness was that I didn’t know what I was aware of. I knew very little, but I was certain that the things I had yet to learn wouldn’t be taught to me at George Washington High School.”
She has soooo many other amazing lines in this novel that I can post for days on some of the verbaige in this book. In any event, I loved her words… they are poetic.
On Sher’s “One to Ten Scale”….
Hmmm… I’d have to give this one a 10! Yes, I loved it that much!