December 5, 2023

Some Good News: The 1969 Memoirs of Maya Angelou I know why the caged bird sings the account of her first 17 years, including the rape of her mother’s boyfriend at age 7 or 8, and her subsequent emotional trauma, is no longer on the American Library Association for Mental Freedom’s banned and challenged books list.

The bad news: High school students will always be assigned titles that vividly depict the real experience of young people, which parents and community groups will target for similar reasons.

The New African listed some verbatim objections raised I know why the caged bird sings – that it incited “vulgarity”, was full of “descriptions of drug abuse, sexually explicit behavior and torture”, preached “bitterness and hatred towards whites”, “likely corrupted minors” and contained “inappropriately explicit sexual scenes”.

Angelou, who accused the book’s detractors of not reading more than two words of it, railed against anyone “acting as if their children weren’t exposed to the same threats”.

Mollie Godfrey’s TED-Ed lesson, animated by Laura White. above, points out how radical I am Angela Know why the caged bird sings was for the work of his time:

Her autobiography was one of the first to speak openly about child sexual abuse, and a particularly groundbreaking one from the perspective of an abused child. For centuries, black women writers have been limited by stereotypes that characterized them as hypersexual. For fear of reinforcing these stereotypes, few people were willing to write about their sexuality at all, but Angelou refused to be limited. She unapologetically and unashamedly explored her most personal experience publicly.

Robert P. Doyle, vice president of the Freedom to Read Foundation, revealed that the ALA was inspired to start Banned Books Week in 1982, when the American Booksellers Association introduced I know why the caged bird sings and other works in a cage outside the entrance to their annual conference:

The display attracted a lot of press attention. And the book community has realized that we have not only an opportunity, but a responsibility to engage the American public in a conversation about the First Amendment as it relates to books and literature. A coalition was immediately formed with authors, publishers, and major distribution centers (bookstores and libraries) in the US to raise awareness of the importance of the freedom to read, publicize threats to that freedom, and provide information to combat the lack of it. awareness.

Many high-profile advocates of the book discovered it at a formative age, including rapper Common, who decided to become a writer after encountering it as a 5th grader, and Oprah Winfrey, who was amazed to learn that another young black woman had also endured . sexual abuse:

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

No less moving is a comment on Godfrey’s TED-Ed class left by a teacher in Texas:

Caged Bird helped save my life. Thank you for the day my 11th grade English teacher at a conservative Christian school handed it to me and said: “Read it sweet pea”…I keep encouraging my students at a conservative Christian school in TX to read it.”

“I’m glad you got the help you needed,” another viewer replied. “I live in Florida and that teacher who helped you would be charged with a felony here. I’m dead serious.”

Listen to an interview with Maya Angela I know why the caged bird sings in 1970 interview with Studs Terkel.

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Ayun Halliday is the chief primatologist East Village Incas zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and A creative, not famous, activity book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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