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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

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Critical Context (Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

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Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is relevant to students of history, literature, sociology, and human rights. The author explores conflicts between children and adults, between blacks and whites, and between women and men. She explores her religious roots, and she explores the processes of maturing physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Angelou’s autobiography appeals to the intellect, the conscience, and the heart of the reader.

Like Langston Hughes’s The Big Sea: An Autobiography (1940) and I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey (1956), Angelou’s biography is accessible to mature young readers and to adults. The writing is clear and direct, poetic and eloquent. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings—which was followed by Gather Together in My Name (1974), Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (1976), The Heart of a Woman (1981), and All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986)—deserves a permanent place among young adult autobiographies.

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Critical Context (Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)


Critical Evaluation