Maya Angelou was an author that I always knew I should read. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings exceeded every expectation I brought to it. Angelou’s words enveloped me and transported me. I read the book in three days, unable to put it down for too long.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is Angelou’s memoir of her early years—from four to sixteen. She explores issues of race, poverty, segregation, rape, and coming-of-age in the midst of everything. She doesn’t shy away from painful or traumatic experiences, but lifts the veil on things hidden. One of the best lines is at the very beginning: “If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.” Angelou shows us the rust on the razor and lets us feel its edge.
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“Someone was hurt before you; wronged before you; hungry before you; frightened before you;beaten before you; humiliated before you; raped before you; yet someone survived.”
Maya Angelou’s I know why the caged bird sings, Letters to my Daughters, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now, and Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women will soon be available in the Pens Up Press online bookstore. Subscribe now to receive a notification when the bookstore goes live and collect your discount (subscription is free).
Author, poet and civil rights activist Dr. Maya Angelou died Wednesday at the age of 86. As one of the literary world’s most influential figures, Angelou’s legacy has been enriched by a life replete with terrible struggles overcome by amazing triumphs.
Angelou was born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Mo. Her older brother gave her the nickname Maya, which stuck with her throughout her life. When her parents split up, Maya and her brother were sent to live in Arkansas with a grandparent.
When reunited in St. Loius with their mother, Angelou was assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend when she was just eight years old. The man was charged but only jailed for a day, and was later found dead. This series of events traumatized Angelou but also led to her creative awakening.
The siblings were sent back to Arkansas, which like much of the…
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Let’s start with what a memoir is not. A memoir is not a biography or an autobiography where you tell your entire life story. A memoir entails a specific aspect of your life. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines memoir as
a narrative composed from personal experience.
I’ve always been interested in other people’s lives, what makes them tick and how they got where they are today. At one time, only celebrities wrote memoirs. Today, anyone can write and publish their memoir. It’s a good thing too because many of us have stories to tell that can impact other people’s lives.
Many of my favorite books (I learned years after I read them) were actually memoirs, such as I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou and Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody, both of which changed my life. Note: A good memoir will be life-changing to the reader.
(At one time, there was no clear distinction between biography and memoir. Today, memoirs are clearly denoted on the front of the book.) Personally, I get a little lost with biographies–too long and not enough punch.
Just like there are different types of life experiences, there are different types of memoirs, coming-of-age, addiction, travel, food, transformation and spirituality, just to name a few. My favorite type of memoir is coming-of-age memoirs, such as James McBride’s The Color of Water because the writer usually writes from a different era and imparts a bit of history.
In an autobiography, the writer attempts to write about every aspect of their life. A memorist, however, picks and chooses what is included in their memoir, based on the experience they are sharing and their message.
So, there you have it.
Are you ready to start writing? Our next post will deal with writing–getting started.