The Genre of Autobiography
The French word genre means a classification of literary works according to type--lyric, narrative, dramatic--which are further divided into novel, short story, epic poem, tragedy, and so forth. According to Meyer H. Abrams, genre is of use to the reader because it "creates a set of expectations which ... enable the reader to make the work intelligible" ( 1993, 77). In other words, if the reader knows for a fact that Angelou I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an autobiography, then the reader also expects the sequel, Gather Together in My Name, to have understandable characteristics of the genre, such as first-person narration, a chronological order, and an emphasis on the self.
Autobiography is a major literary genre, the form that Maya Angelou uses in her long prose works. Broken down, the word auto/bio/graphy means self/life/story, the narrative of the events in a person's life. It is also known as life writing or the literature of self-revelation. According to Alfred Kazin, autobiography "uses fact as a strategy [It is a] history of a self, [and exhibits a] concern for the self as a character" ( 1964, 213).
A number of critics have classified Angelou's five volumes as autobiographical fiction and not as autobiographies, for the apparent reason that Angelou amplifies the autobiographical tone by using dialogue--by having another character or characters speak to the narrator. According