I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Book Review

There are some books that are so much a part of our culture that there is no denying their larger cultural impact.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by the late writer, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, was published in 1969. The most recent edition, with a foreword by Oprah Winfrey, was published in 2009.

The book is an autobiography and the story of Angelou’s childhood. Born to a poor African American family, Maya and her brother Bailey spend the first years of life living with their grandmother in a small town in the American south. Though she is dealing with abandonment issues and the pervasive prejudice of the time (which unfortunately still exists today), Maya still finds joy and pleasure in learning.

Her life is forever altered when she is assaulted by a much older man after returning to her mother in St. Louis. Later, as a teenager who by then is living in San Fransisco, she discovers the power of literature and the strength that comes when you learn to love yourself.

Why I have never read this book, I don’t know. But I am glad I did.

Her experience as a girl is both universal and powerfully specific to the era she grew up in. Finding confidence, especially after a hard girlhood, sometimes only occurs long after we have grown up. Looking back at my own teenage years, I wish I would have had the ability to develop that same self-belief that Angelou was able to manifest at that same age. Perhaps some things might have turned out differently.

I can only imagine the emotional digging it took to excavate the crap from her youth and put it into a narrative that we can all find something in common. It takes courage to do that. When it is done well (as she obviously has accomplished), it opens the door for readers to possibly do the same with their own lives and emotional baggage.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is available wherever books are sold.

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Can You Learn to Write Via Fanfiction?

Learning to write can only be described as a process of trial and error. For every polished piece or story that is published, there are others that are still in messy draft form.

Many writers (myself included) started writing via fanfiction. Fanfiction is fiction that is based on previously released work. The beauty of this genre is that there are so many opportunities to take the narrative in a new direction. The story can be a prequel, a sequel, go inside a character’s head, take place in an alternative universe, etc.

The one caveat is that the publishing date determines whether or not the writer is breaking copyright laws. Anything that was published more than 100 years ago (i.e. the novels of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens) is public domain and obviously fair game. The same cannot be said if the tale being crafted is based on a work that is less than a century old. Anyone writing, for example, Harry Potter or Star Wars fanfiction is wading into legally murky waters.

The answer is yes, you can learn to write via fanfiction. Some of my early works are in need of a major rewrite. Even with that cringe factor, there is no doubt that I was learning along the way. The basics of creating fiction in terms of narrative, characters, setting, etc, can be mastered via this genre. E.L. James, the creator of the Fifty Shades of Grey series, has become one of the preeminent authors of our era started out by creating Twilight fanfiction. Regardless of one’s opinion of James’s writing, there is no doubt that she has turned a hobby into a successful career.

Not everyone takes the same route when they start out writing. That does mean, however, that one path is better or worse than another. We all learn how to craft stories in our own way and own time. One of these routes is fanfiction.

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