Understanding I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Understanding I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

by Joanne Megna-Wallace
     
 

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Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was nominated for a National Book Award, yet in 1995 it topped the list of books most frequently challenged in schools and libraries. This interdisciplinary collection of documents and commentary explores the historical and social context, as well as the contemporary issues and controversies raised by

Overview

Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was nominated for a National Book Award, yet in 1995 it topped the list of books most frequently challenged in schools and libraries. This interdisciplinary collection of documents and commentary explores the historical and social context, as well as the contemporary issues and controversies raised by Angelou's autobiography. A rich resource for teachers and students, it will help to enhance the reader's understanding of the historical and social forces that shaped Maya Angelou's experience—race relations in the pre-civil rights South, segregated schools, the African American church, and the African American family. It also examines the issue of childhood sexual abuse, the inclusion of which has been the basis of most of the challenges to the autobiography, and the issue of the work's censorship since its publication.This rich resource begins with a literary analysis of the structure and dramatic elements of Angelou's autobiography, as well as discussion of the genre of autobiography. Subsequent chapters include introductions and documents that provide insight into the topics of race relations, lynchings, and racial etiquette; the education of African Americans in the South in the 1930s (particularly county training schools like the one Angelou attended); the otherworldliness, emotion, and music of the African American church; African American women as nurturers, and the effect of frequent migration on children such as Angelou; information from the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect which puts the sexual abuse Angelou experiences in a broader context; and many news stories regarding censorship attempts on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Documents in the work include newspaper articles, interviews and first-person narratives, government documents, excerpts from books and journals, and legal statutes. Study questions, ideas for project topics, and suggested readings conclude each chapter and further enhance the usefulness of this interdisciplinary research tool for students and teachers.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Melissa Thacker
Two Greenwood series titles provide excellent literary critiques of Angelou's work. In the Literature in Context series, Megna Wallace does an admirable job of putting Angelou's first autobiography in historical context, using the socio-political atmosphere surrounding I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as a means of explaining Angelou's and others' actions as characters in the book. Megna-Wallace discusses violence and racism, segregated school, the African American Church, African American families, child sexual abuse, and censorship in relation to Angelou's book. Additionally, she includes excerpts from important books, articles, and studies discussing these topics. While Megna-Wallace primarily focuses on Caged Bird, Lupton looks at all five of Angelou's autobiographies in her entry in the Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary Writers series. She puts Angelou's work in literary context, not historical. She gives a brief overview of Angelou's life and the art of autobiography. Then she discusses each of Angelou's books looking at narrative point of view, structure, plot development, character development, setting, themes, style and literary devices, and critical reading. Lupton discusses Angelou's books in relation to each other and to other writers, both black and white. Both books are well written and beneficial, but Lupton's is more helpful for students. Megna-Wallace's book, with its in-depth historical overview, is almost too much for high school students wanting to find quick sources of criticism. Only the most dedicated, self-motivated students will be interested. It lends itself better to teachers as each chapter includes study questions and "topics for written or oral explanation." Students will find Maya Angelou invaluable with its clear headings breaking down the stories to their various parts. It is also a good introduction to literary criticism. Lupton writes clearly, illustrating good criticism and explaining literary terms as she goes along. In one of my favorite sections, Lupton looks at each autobiography using a different form of criticism. She uses feminist criticism with Caged Bird, deconstructionism for Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas, Freudian criticism for The Heart of a Woman, and so on. Students of Angelou's autobiographical work will find much enlightenment here. Both books are excellent for what they do, but if you have to make a choice, Maya Angelou: A Critical Companion is the more practical. Note: This review was written and published to address Understanding I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Understanding I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Index. Biblio. Further Reading. Chronology. VOYA Codes: 4Q 2P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12).

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780313302299
Publisher:
ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
Publication date:
06/28/1998
Series:
Greenwood Press "Literature in Context" Series
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile:
1330L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 Years

Meet the Author

JOANNE MEGNA-WALLACE is Professor of Humanities at Bradford College in Bradford, Massachusetts, where she teaches French and women's literature. She is the author of articles on Maya Angelou, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir. Her current interests include francophone and ethnic literatures, especially African American women's literature.

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