Why Maya Angelou’s Memoir I Know Why Caged Birds Sing Became One of the Most Banned Books of All Time
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Why Maya Angelou’s Memoir I Know Why Caged Birds Sing Became One of the Most Banned Books of All Time

Some good news: Maya Angelou’s 1969 memoir I Know Why Caged Birds Sing, his first 17-year retelling, including being raped at age 7 or 8 by his mother’s boyfriend, and the subsequent emotional trauma, no longer leads the Office of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom’s list of prohibited and challenged books.

The bad news: there will always be degrees awarded to high school students that clearly describe young people’s actual experiences, which will be targeted by parents and societal groups for the same reason.

New Africans lists some of the verbatim objections that have been raised I Know Why Caged Birds Sing – which encourages “profanity”, is filled with “descriptions of drug abuse, sexually explicit behavior and torture”, preaches “bitterness and hatred of white people”, “possibly corrupts minors” and contains “inappropriate sexually explicit scenes” .

Angelou, who accused the book’s detractors of not reading more than two words, curbed that anyone would “act as if their children were not facing the same threats.”

Mollie Godfrey’s TED-Ed lesson, animated by Laura White. above, show how radical Angelou’s I Know Why Caged Birds Sing is for the work of his time:

Her autobiography was one of the first to speak openly about child sexual abuse and especially groundbreaking for doing so from the abused child’s perspective. For centuries black women writers were limited by stereotypes that characterized them as hypersexual. Afraid of reinforcing these stereotypes, few are willing to write about their sexuality at all but Angelou refuses to be restricted. He openly explores his most personal experiences without apologies or embarrassment.

Robert P. Doyle, vice president of the Freedom to Read Foundation, revealed that ALA was inspired to launch Banned Books Week in 1982, when the Booksellers Association of America presented I Know Why Caged Birds Sing and other jobs in the stables outside their annual conference entrance:

The display generated a lot of press attention. And the book community recognizes that we have not only an opportunity, but a responsibility to engage the American public in conversations about the First Amendment as they relate to books and literature. A coalition was quickly formed with the main authors, publishers, and distribution centers (bookstores and libraries) in the US to draw attention to the importance of freedom to read, to publicize threats to that freedom, and to provide information to combat the deficiency. awareness.

Many famous defenders of the book discovered it at a formative age, including rapper Common, who decided to become a writer after discovering it as a 5th grader, and Oprah Winfrey, who was fascinated to learn that other young black girls were experiencing it too. sexual harassment:

I read the words and thought, “Someone knows who I am.”

Equally moving is the comment about a TED-Ed Godfrey lesson left by a teacher in Texas:

The Bird Cage helped save my life. Grateful for the day my 11th grade English teacher at a conservative Christian school handed it to me and said, “read this, sweet pea”…I still encourage my students at conservative Christian schools in TX to read it.”

“I’m glad you got the help you needed,” replied another viewer. “I live in Florida, and any teacher who helps you will be charged with a crime here. I am very serious.”

Listen to Maya Angelou discuss I Know Why Caged Birds Sing in the 1970’s interview with Studs Terkel.

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Come on Halliday is Chief Primatologist of Inky East Village zines and authors, latest, from Creative, Unknown: The Little Potato Manifesto And Creative Activity Book, Not Famous. Follow him @AyunHalliday.

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