I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the first—and many say the best—of five autobiographical volumes the gifted African American author, Maya Angelou, wrote. It is a remarkably vivid retelling of the turbulent events of her childhood, during which she shuttled back and forth between dramatically different environments in rural Stamps, Arkansas, slightly raunchy St. Louis, Missouri, and glitzy San Francisco, California. It is also the annals of her relationships with a rich and diverse cast of characters. Chief among these are her determined, strict, and wise grandmother Annie Henderson, her crippled and bitter uncle Willie Johnson; her bright and imaginative brother Bailey Johnson Jr.; her playboy father Bailey Johnson; and her beautiful, brilliant, and worldly mother, Vivian Baxter Johnson. A host of other unforgettable characters fill out the cast for this earnest, sometimes sardonic retelling of the drama of Maya Angelou's growing-up years. During these years, she struggled against the odds of being black at a time when prejudice, especially in the South, was at its height. But most of all her story is the story of discovering who she is—of working her way through a multifaceted identity crisis. The source of the title of the book is a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar entitled "Sympathy." "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," writes the poet. "When he beats his bars and he would be free. It is a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."