"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" is a 1969 autobiography about the early years of Dr. Angelou’s life and is the most highly acclaimed of Angelou's autobiographies. The first in a seven-volume series, it is a coming-of-age story that illustrates how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome racism and trauma. The book begins when three-year-old Maya and her older brother are sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their grandmother and ends when Maya becomes a mother at the age of 16.
"Gather Together in My Name" is the second book in Angelou's series of seven autobiographies. The book begins immediately following the events described in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and follows Angelou, called Rita, from the ages of 17 to 19. Written three years after Caged Bird, the book "depicts a single mother's slide down the social ladder into poverty and crime." The title of the book is taken from the Bible, but it also conveys how one black female lived in the white-dominated society of the U.S. following the Second World War.
Set between 1949 and 1955, "Singin' And Swingin' And Gettin' Merry Like Christmas" spans Angelou's early 20s. She describes her struggles to support her young son, form meaningful relationships, and forge a successful career in the entertainment world. The work's 1976 publication marked the first time an African-American woman had expanded her life story into a third volume. Scholar Dolly McPherson calls the book "a graphic portrait of the adult self in bloom," while critic Lyman B. Hagen calls it "a journey of discovery and rebirth."
"The Heart of a Woman" recounts events in Angelou's life between 1957 and 1962. The volume follows her travels to California, New York City, Cairo, and Ghana as she raises her teenage son, becomes a published author, becomes active in the U.S. civil rights movement, and becomes romantically involved with a South African anti-apartheid fighter. One of the most important themes of The Heart of a Woman is motherhood. The book follows Angelou as she raises her teenage son and ends as he leaves for college, with Angelou contemplating newfound independence and freedom.
Set between 1962 and 1965, "All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes" begins when Angelou is 33 years old and recounts the years she lived in Accra, Ghana. Deriving its title from a Negro spiritual, the book begins where Angelou's previous memoir, The Heart of a Woman, ends — with the traumatic car accident involving her son — and closes with Angelou returning to America.
Set between 1965 and 1968, "A Song Flung Up to Heaven" begins with Angelou's trip from Accra, Ghana, where she had lived for four years, back to the United States. Two "calamitous events" frame the beginning and end of the book: the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Angelou describes how she dealt with these events, the sweeping changes in both the country and her personal life, and her return home. The book ends with Angelou at "the threshold of her literary career," writing the opening lines to her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
"Mom & Me & Mom" was published shortly before Mother's Day and Angelou's 85th birthday. In it, she focuses on her relationship with her mother, Vivian Baxter, for the first time. The book explains Baxter's behavior, especially her abandonment of Angelou and Angelou's older brother when they were young children. The volume fills in "what are possibly the final blanks in Angelou's eventful life” and chronicles Angelou's reunion and reconciliation with Baxter.
Distinctly referred to as “a redwood tree, with deep roots in American culture,” Dr. Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928-May 28, 2014) led a prolific life. As a singer, dancer, activist, poet and writer, she inspired generations with lyrical modern African-American thought that pushed boundaries. Best known for her autobiography
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Random House), she gave people the freedom to think about their history in a way they never had before. Explore her life through this timeline of her books, and learn a little bit more about the woman who inspires so many.