#FridayReads: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Every Friday I share a book I’ve been reading. Please share your own #FridayReads in the comments!

cagedbirdI’m embarrassed at how long it took me to read Maya Angelou. But now that I’ve started I can’t get enough. I’ve read The Complete Collected Poetry of Maya Angelou (1994) and Letter to My Daughter (2009), and now I’m listening to the audiobook version of her most well-known book.

In telling the story of her childhood in segregated Arkansas, Angelou describes the world as she saw it in the moment, and then offers some adult perspective. This is a delicate balance that a lot of authors muck up, but not Angelou. Every detail is sharp and fresh and penetrating.

I’m about a quarter through the book, and already it’s hard to pick out the hardest-hitting scene. One that struck me was the story of a group of white children coming into her grandmother’s store to taunt and torment her. Angelou wanted to make the children stop, to prevent them from disrespecting her grandmother, but she is ordered to leave the store. She feels powerless and angry. This is a devastating moment, and the way Angelou sets it up by describing how she did not see whites as “people”—because of complete segregation—makes it even more poignant.

We no longer live in a world with official segregation, but in reading this book I can’t help but think of the way police officers keep shooting and killing black men, and the number of black men in prison, and how it all looks eerily, uncomfortably familiar. I have to ask myself, “What is my role in the new segregation?” I don’t know the answer yet, but Angelou has inspired me to seek it out.

Angelou narrates her own audiobooks, and her voice has this quiet power to it. It is confident and authoritative without being abrasive or demanding. I love it when she includes a song in the story, because she always sings it, and it’s always beautiful.

The world is truly a poorer place for losing Maya Angelou.

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