I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou
Like probably a lot of other young women of my generation, I was familiar with the name Maya Angelou. I knew she was a revolutionary lady, I knew she wrote beautifully, spoke eloquently, and inspired a race, a generation, a gender. But, admittedly, I didn’t know much about her story until she sadly passed away earlier this year. A quote I remember being attributed to her that has stuck in my mind ever since that day is “if you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”
I finally read her book “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings;” I wasn’t sure how or even if I’d relate to the story of a sweet young Negro girl growing up under the strict hand of her grandmother in Arkansas after having been abandoned, along with her brother, by their parents back in the 1930s. Her story starts when she and her brother are sent off by train to stay with their paternal grandmother when she was only three years old, and ends when she unexpectedly becomes a mother at the age of only 16; right from the very first page, she had me hooked. She had me, utterly and completely under her spell.
I was surprised to draw some unexpected parallels to my life from Maya’s story, mostly in the fact that she was a quiet and withdrawn child, who found her solace and spirit in reading book after book after book; I did, too. I also related to her tender-heartedness, not understanding why it was so that some people had and others had not, not understanding why people had so much hatred and contempt, not understanding the reasoning behind racism, or why one “race” should be “better” than any other. Are we not all people?
The journey I took with Maya through the 1930s and 40s across America, in times where racism and segregation were incredibly real, was a confronting and heart breaking one. I got some strange looks while I read on the train to and from work each day, finding myself smiling, frowning, gasping and shaking my head throughout the book. It’s really hard not to; the way she writes can’t not draw out an emotional response from you.
It was crystal clear to me that Maya was a special lady right from her first day. Despite the numerous, soul shaking and horrific hardships she faced, she really never wavered. She remained strong, proud, determined, curious, good, kind. She worked hard for everything, she educated herself when she didn’t know, and didn’t show off what she did. I thought class, humility, genuine honesty and dignity shone through on every single page, and that’s what kept me turning the pages so quickly – I expected to take a while to read it, but I was done within 5 short days of commute and lunch time reading.
I’m going to stop here, because, honestly, nothing I write about this book could possibly do it justice. It’s one of those stories that you notice your soul shifting whilst reading, and you should start reading it soon if you haven’t already. Get a copy right here or at your closest bookshop.