Hi, there. Maggie Shaw here, proud owner of Eregendal and author.
As a lifelong lover of reading, each month I choose one of my favourite books – and tell you all about it.
For February’s Book of the Month during Black History Month, I have chosen I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, first published in 1969. Dr Angelou was born in 1928 and rose from poverty, violence and racism in the American South of the 1930s to become a renowned black author, poet, playwright and civil rights activist. She was honoured by more than seventy universities throughout the world before her death in 2014.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is the first of Dr Angelou’s seven autobiographical works. The book charts her life through her childhood and finishes as she became an unmarried teenage mother. She was raised by her grandmother in the cotton growing region of Stamps, Arkansas, but when she was 8 years old, she and her young brother Bailey were sent to stay with her mother in St Louis. They returned to Stamps after she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She matriculated from school in 1940 and returned with Bailey to stay with her mother who had moved to San Francisco. She also stayed briefly with her father and his girlfriend in southern California. Later, with persistence and her mother’s encouragement, she became the first black woman to be a streetcar conductor. Then, doubting her body’s gender, she initiated intercourse with a local boy and fell pregnant, giving birth to a healthy baby boy.
Dr Angelou’s description of the black community in Stamps, showed a supportive, caring and God-fearing society which helped its people cope with poverty, The Depression, and racial inequality with dignity and industry. The black communities in St Louis and San Francisco were also supportive of their own folk, but focused more on making money and less on religion, with many living on the borders of legality. Of note was Dr Angelou’s description of the black community’s hypocrisy in its prejudice against the Japanese community, despite suffering the injustices of prejudice at the hands of the white community.
I came away from the book, impressed by the honesty, vigour and lack of self-pity in Dr Angelou’s writing, especially for the era in which her book was first published. Her style was easy to read despite including several traumatic incidents among all the stories of home and school life. Most of all, I remember her indomitable spirit as she rose above her circumstances. It seems no surprise that she came to be recognised by universities, presidents, and noted figures of modern history including Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.
So there we have it, February’s Book of the Month! Be sure to check back in March as I’ll be revealing another must read.