Maya Angelou

Celebrating Maya Angelou

There was a lot going on in 1969. As a result, there are quite a few 50-year anniversaries being observed this year. Right around the time that men first walked on the moon and hippies were flailing around in the mud at Woodstock, one of the most important books of all time was also being published: Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. This groundbreaking autobiography describes the writer’s early years and illustrates how a strong character and a love of literature and ideas can help overcome traumatic experiences and racial discrimination. This volume ends with Angelou becoming a mother at age 16. Her life chronicles continue in six more autobiographical volumes, and she later published numerous volumes of essays, poetry, and plays.

Angelou was born in 1928 and spent most of her childhood in the care of her grandmother in the deeply segregated town of Stamps, Arkansas. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she tells that she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend at the age of seven, and he was murdered soon after. Angelou became almost completely mute for several years after due to that trauma. Her life journey included stints as a waitress, a prostitute, a cook, a dancer, and an actor before her great breakthrough as a writer. She was also an active participant in the civil rights movement, working with both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

Following the publication of her first book, Angelou became a leading voice among women and African Americans. Although Angelou’s books were met with positive critical reception, including a National Book Award nomination, they have also been met with resistance when included in school curricula and libraries. The book has been used in many schools to facilitate discussions about race and privilege, and also as a vehicle to discuss resilience in children. Many parents objected to the inclusion of lesbianism, premarital sex, pornography, and violence in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, making the book a perpetual member of ALA’s Most Frequently Challenged Books list.

In later years, Angelou became known as a speaker and a poet. She was invited to compose and deliver a poem, "On the Pulse of Morning," for the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993. She was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010. President Barack Obama released a moving statement upon her death in 2014 at the age of 86.

Most of Angelou’s written work remains in print and is an integral part of most library collections.

View titles here.

Angelou’s work and legacy are celebrated on the official Maya Angelou website. This site also includes biographical information, audio recordings, and stories about her life and work.