Following Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination in 1968, Angelou was inspired by a meeting with writer James Baldwin and cartoonist Jules Feiffer to write I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as a method of dealing with her friend's loss and drawing attention to her own personal issues with racism. The book was published three years later in 1969.
In an interview with NPR's Terry Gross, Angelou said she wrote the book in only 30 days because otherwise it would have taken her a year like its predecessor A Song of Songs (1966). She also noted that she wrote several pages each day so that she wouldn't get stuck on a topic for too long.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a memoir that deals with racism through an innocent bird that can only sing when someone else is listening. The story follows Maymie Bee as she travels from South Carolina to Atlanta where her mother has been given a job at a hotel that practices slavery. In the city, Maymie encounters many problems such as being hit by a car, getting arrested for singing in public, and seeing people treat her mother badly because she is black. However, she also finds friends who help them both escape from slavery.
Maymie learns how to use her talents to communicate with other people even though she starts out not wanting to be seen or heard. Eventually, she realizes that if everyone stopped caging birds, they would stop being caged altogether.
Angelou, Maya Authors/I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: A Biography of Maya Angelou. New York: Warner Books, 1991.
Maya Angelou was an American poet, civil rights activist, and political prisoner. Her 1964 autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, became a national bestseller and received widespread critical acclaim. The book inspired several other artists and authors, including Alice Walker, who cited it as one of her influences.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4th, 1928, she was raised by her mother after her father died when she was just two years old. She worked as a secretary before marrying physician Don L. Lee in 1952. However, the marriage did not last long and she filed for divorce in 1955. Thereafter, she moved to California, where she worked as a nurse's aide before founding Maya's Dream, a program that provided health care for poor women and children. In 1962, she traveled to Ghana with the goal of promoting African-American art and culture but was arrested upon her return to the United States for protesting racial segregation. She was released three months later after serving nine months of a two-year sentence.
"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" is a free verse poem written by Maya Angelou, an American poet and civil rights activist. The poem first appeared in 1969 in Ms. Magazine and was later included in her collection of poems I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Maya Angelou began writing poetry at the age of 30. She wrote several books of poetry including Caged Bird (1969), Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Dies (1971), And Still I Rise (1980), On the Pulse of Morning (1994) and others. Her work has been translated into many languages and is currently being taught in schools around the world.
In addition to writing poetry, Angelou became well-known during the Black Power movement as one of the leading voices in the fight for civil rights for African Americans. She founded and served as president of PEN American Center, a nonprofit organization that promotes freedom of expression among writers worldwide. In 1992, she received the Lincoln Medal from the National Association for Women Artists.