Tag Archives: my quest



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??



This is the third installment in my quest, which is to read a book by an author from each state!  This selection is The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wells. glasscastleJeannette Wells was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1960.  The daughter of Rex and Rose Mary, she lived a nomadic life, with a family that was constantly doing the “skeedadle” when bills were due. She left home at age 17, moving to New York City and eventually graduated from Barnard with honors. She was the gossip columnist for MSNBC and left in 2007 to pursue writing full time.

The Glass Castle is her memoir of growing up, beginning at age three. Actually, in  the opening of the book she sees her mother digging through a garbage dumpster in lower Manhatten as she retreats to her Park Avenue home. 

The 2nd chapter opens with the line “I was on fire”. That will get your attention. At three years old her favorite pink dress caught fire  as she tried to make herself a hot dog. When they asked her at the hospital why she was cooking, she said “Mom says I’m mature for my age and she lets me cook.”.   Her mother often consumed by finishing her latest painting, she often couldn’t be bothered to cook, why spend the time on something that will be consumed in 15 minutes when she can spend time on a painting that will last forever?   

This is the story of her family  – much of is pure horror. But it is told with love and affection for her nomadic parents. Her father is an alcoholic that often can’t hold a job. He doesn’t trust the government with his money, and is always talking about the “glass castle” they will build when he makes his fortune. Her mother often hoards candy bars when they children have no food. 

The family settles for a time in a mining town in Nevada and she spends much of her time exploring the desert with her brother Brian, while her sister Lori reads. Mom even takes a break from painting and teaches for a bit. But, when there is an altercation with the law, the family is forced to “skedaddle” again.  

Mom has inherited a house from her mother and they move to Phoenix, and they have some stability for awhile. Dad works, but the alcoholism always comes back.  In a touching scene, Jeannette asks her dad to give up drinking for her 10th birthday, which he valiantly tries to do. But, when the car breaks down, and mom decides she needs more adventure, they move to dad’s childhood home in West Virginia. 

West Virginia is terribly depressing. Rex’s mom is abusive and she tries to sexually abuse brother Brian. The town itself is depressing, segregated and impoverished. They buy a shack on a hill – no indoor plumbing or central heating. Dad’s drinking gets worse and the children are often hungry. She and sister Lori plan an to escape to New York, and the girls manage to do it! Brian joins them later (at this point there is a younger sister Maureen). 

Not to give too much away, the parents get a little lonely and follow the children to New York – but they are unwilling to work and instead live as squatters. Maureen doesn’t adjust well and ends up in a mental institution.

Somehow the story is told with genuine love for her parents, and also a sense of adventure in growing up.  This is a well written memoir, a tale of survival that includes near starvation, abuse and poverty, but also of love.  Jeannette current lives in Virginia with her husband, with her mother close by (her father died in 1994).200px-Jeannette_walls_2009

Some local sayings about Arizona:

Arizona looks like a battle on Mars.

Welcome to Arizona, where summer spends the winter – and hell spends the summer.

You know you are from Arizona when you feed your chickens ice cubes to keep them from laying hard-boiled eggs.


Copper is the most abundant mineral

The bola tie is the official state neckwear

Petrified wood is the official state fossil

Turquoise is the official state gemstone

The saguaro cactus blossom is the official state flower

The saguaro is the largest American cactus

Arizona is home to the Grand Canyon

Arizona observes Mountain Standard time year round – except in the Navajo Nation

Frank Lloyd Wrights studio Tallesin West was built near Phoenix

Arizona has the most land set aside and designated as Indian lands

Next – I will be reading from Arkansas!