Cover image for Understanding I know why the caged bird sings : a student casebook to issues, sources, and historical documents
Understanding I know why the caged bird sings : a student casebook to issues, sources, and historical documents
Megna-Wallace, Joanne, 1954-
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
xiv, 189 pages ; 25 cm.
Reading Level:
1330 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3551.N464 Z779 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



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.

Author Notes

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.

Reviews 1

School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-A look at the historical context of Angelou's autobiography. In addition to one chapter of literary criticism, overviews of race relations in the South, school segregation, the African-American church, the African-American family, sexual abuse, and censorship attempts against the book are discussed. Primary sources include letters, newspaper reports, and documents. The writing is dry, but the convenient package of individual writings makes up for it. Each chapter provides a list of bibliographic sources, "Suggested Readings," "Study Questions," and "Topics for Written or Oral Exploration." This book will be used primarily by researchers but some chapters could be used as springboards for discussion.-Karen Hoth, Marathon Middle/High School, FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

The Journey to Maturity and Self-Esteem
A Literary Analysis ofMaya Angelou's
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Violence and Intimidation as a Means of Social Control
A Historical Overview of Race Relations in the South FromJames P. Comer
"The Dynamics of Black and White Violence
From The Mob Still Rides
A Review of the Lynching Record, 1931-1935
From the Arkansas Gazette
"Young Negro Lynched at Lepanto" (1936) and "Negro Lynched by Mob at Crossett" (1932)
"Tech 'Er Off, Charlie," inTom E. Terrill and Jerrold Herisch, eds.
Such as Us: Southern Voices of the Thirties (1978)
Segregated Schools: An Institutional Method of Social Control
From Ina Corinne Brown, National Survey of the Higher Education of Negroes (1942)
From Growing Up in the Black Belt (1941)Charles S. Johnson
From U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Education, "The Public School System of Arkansas" (1923)
From County Training Schools and Public SecondaryEdward E. Redcay
Education for Negroes in the South (1935)
From Growing Up in the Black Belt (1941)Charles S. Johnson
The African-American Church From (1947)Harry V. Richardson and Dark Glory
From Growing Up in the Black Belt (1941)Charles S. Johnson
From These My BrethrenRalph A. Felton
A Study of 570 Negro Churches and 1542 Negro Homes in the Rural South (1950)
From The Spirituals and the Blues: An Interpretation (1972)James H. Cone
From U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1936 (1941)
The African American Family and Other Role Models
From The Mark of OppressionAbram Kardiner and Lionel Ovesey
Explorations in the Personality of the American Negro (1951)
From New York Times: "Thousands in Harlem Celebrate Louis Victory" (1935)
From Negro-White Differences in Geographic Mobility (1964)Eva Mueller and William Ladd
Child Sexual Abuse From U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Child Sexual Abuse
Incest, Assault and Sexual Exploitation (1981)
Censorship From Attacks on the Freedom to Learn: 1996 Report (1996) From Banned Books Week Resource Guide, 1997 (1997)
From Attacks on the Freedom to Learn: 1996 Report (1996)
From the [Alabama] Decatur Daily (1995-1996)
Bibliographic Essay Chronology of Maya Angelou's Career