This is my fourth installment in my QUEST – I’m reading a book by an author from each state (alphabettically) For the state of Arkansas, I chose I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS by Maya Angelou (published 1969).
It follows Maya, from age 3 to age 17 ending with the birth of her son.
After the divorce of her parents, Maya, at the age of three, and her older brother, Bailey, are sent to live with her paternal grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. Calling her Momma, she owns the only store in the black section of Stamps. Struggling with feelings of rejection, Maya also believes she is an ugly child that will never measure up to the white girls, and doesn’t feel equal to the black children in Stamps.
The children move to St. Louis to be with their mother. It is here that Maya is raped by her mother’s boyfriend. After being acquitted in court, he is murdered.
Returning to Stamps, Maya is introduced to an educated woman, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, who encourages her to read and gives her books of literature and poetry.
There are several instances along the way that show how insidious racism can be. Her mother sends her and Bailey to live in San Francisco. Here she studies drama and dance and becomes the first Black female conductor in San Franciso. Visiting her father in Southern California, she drives a car for the first time (she has to get her drunk father home from Mexico), leaves after a fight with her father’s girlfriend and ends up living in a junkyard with other kids.
I recommend this book – I feel it is time well spent. There is much more in the book than what I mentioned here!
Maya Angelous was born Marguerite Johnson on April 4th , 1928. She published seven autobiographies, several books of poetry, and was awarded more than 50 honorary derees. She worked as a cook, prostitute, nightclub singer and a journalist in Egypt. Other interesting facts about her:
She wrote Hallmark greeting cards
She loved Law and Order
She wrote a couple of cookbooks
She danced in a touring company of Porgy and Bess in the 50’s
She was a guest on Sesame Street
A lover of country music, she said she was “seriously affected by the breakup of Brooks and Dunn”
Won three Grammy awards
Fluent in six languages; English, French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and West African Fante
First African-American female of the Directors Guild of America
Appeared in the television mini-series Roots
Appointed to the Bicentennial Commission by President Gerald Ford
Recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton’s innaguration, only the 2nd poet to participate in an innaguration (Robert Frost read in 1961)
Received the National Medal for Arts in 2000
She died May 28, 2014.
Some facts about Arkansas:
The mockingbird is the state bird
The square dance in the state dance
Milk is the state beverage
The fiddle is the state instrument
The honeybee is the state insect
The state tree is the southern pine
It is illegal to mis-pronouse the state name – it is Ar-Kan-Saw
The only active diamond mine in the US is located in Arkansas
Well, my next stop on my quest will be California! Any suggestions for a writer from California??
There are far too many writers from California to pick only one favorite, but if you like science fiction, there’s Octavia Butler or Ursula K. LeGuin. For historical interest, there’s Jack London and Robert Frost. And if you want to go Hollywood, Carrie Fisher or Wil Wheaton.
I’m a big Ursula LeGuin fan – I’ve read alot of her book. Never read Jack London – that’s a thought! Considering Steinbeck too! Thanks for the suggestions!