Celebrating Black History Month at the VCU Libraries
Reviewed by Renée Bosman, Government Information Librarian
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and you'll be unsurprised by anything in between. These words, by which Maya Angelou's mother lived, seem strangely apt to describe an autobiography of oppression and tragedy, but also of joy and humor. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings tells the story of Angelou's childhood, from Depression-era rural Arkansas to San Francisco at the height of World War II. Her life experiences of those first sixteen years and the issues they explore—integrity, self-esteem, race relations, and rape—make for a compelling read in their own right, but the greatest part of this memoir is the language itself. "For nearly a year," she says, "I sopped around the house, the Store, the school and the church, like an old biscuit, dirty and inedible." The vivid descriptions and imaginative metaphors make this book feel like poetry, and also make it a perennial regular on high school reading lists. Yet even if you have previously read this for class, I highly recommend picking it up again, to experience just for the sheer enjoyment of her words.