Understanding I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Understanding I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Understanding I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Understanding I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Synopsis

Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was nominated for a National Book Award, yet in 1995 it topped the list of books most frequently challenged in schools and libraries. This interdisciplinary collection of documents and commentary explores the historical and social context, as well as the contemporary issues and controversies raised by Angelou's autobiography. A rich resource for teachers and students, it will help to enhance the reader's understanding of the historical and social forces that shaped Maya Angelou's experience--race relations in the pre-civil rights South, segregated schools, the African American church, and the African American family. It also examines the issue of childhood sexual abuse, the inclusion of which has been the basis of most of the challenges to the autobiography, and the issue of the work's censorship since its publication.

Excerpt

The importance of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings cannot be overestimated. Angelou's chronicle of an African American girl growing up in the rural South in the 1930s, written at the end of the turbulent decade of the 1960s, tapped into the conscience of a nation grappling with civil rights and women's liberation issues. In 1970 it was nominated for the National Book Award, and it soon became required reading at many high schools and colleges, a fact confirmed by the dubious distinction of its having been the frequent target of censorship. In 1995 the work topped the Office for Intellectual Freedom's "most challenged" list.

Following Angelou's appearance at President Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993, where she read her poem "On the Pulse of Morning," interest in her work has intensified. In 1994, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was named among the one hundred best books for young adults by the Young Adult Library Services Association. As of August 1997, it had been on the New York Times paperback nonfiction bestseller list for 153 weeks. Also indicative of the book's popularity is the impact it has had on popular culture. The June 1995 issue of the Alternative Law Journal reported that a character in the film Reality Bites declares that he "knows why the caged bird sings" and that this line is also used "in a song on Maxinquaye, the new album by Tricky. . . ."

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