Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

Biographical Information
  • Maya Angelou was born on April 14, 1928 in St. Louis Missoouri
  • Her actual birth name is Marguerite Annie Johnson but her brother gave her the nickname Maya meaning "my sister"
  • Angelou was faced with a difficult childhood, her parents split while she was very young. She and her older brother were sent to live with her father's mother
  • As an African American woman, she faced prejudice and discrimination during her time
  • Although she did not go to college, Maya received several honors for her dancing, poetry and other artistic abilities
  • She went to Ghana (where she held a positionat the University of Ghana) and Egypt as a freelance writer
  • Her friend and fellow writer, James Baldwin, urged her to write about her experiences
  • She is well-known for her poem, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings"
  • Angelou recited poetry at Bill Clinton's inauguration and received the 2010 Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama
  • She died on May 28, 2014 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Maya Angelou
How Her Life Affected Her Writing

Maya Angelou's life greatly influenced her writing. When she was very young her parents divorced and she stayed with her brother. As an African American, Angelou also faced racial prejudice. In the poem, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings", Maya Angelou displays the meaning of slavery and racial discrimination. Many of Angelou's poems were influenced by her troubled childhood and segregation during her time. Maya earned may honors and awards during her career, including, two NAACP image awards in the outstanding literary work in nonfiction.

Caged bird
Writing Style

Maya Angelou writes with humor and includes natural references in her poetry. In this poem, Maya writes as herself when she was a kid. She uses details and figurative language to explain her thoughts and feelings. This poem compares slaves to caged birds.

Figurative Language
  • The entire poem is an example of a metaphor, comparing slaves to caged birds. The poem talks about how the caged birds sing for freedom like the African Americans did during slavery.
  • In line 10, "for the caged bird sings of freedom" personification is used to give the bird the ability too sing of freedom.
  • Line 12, "and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees" also uses personification, giving trees the human-like ability to sigh.
  • Line 15, "his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream" personifies a shadow and gives it the ability to shout.
  • The poet also uses repetition of lines to emphasize those words.
Tone and Mood

The poem, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" is an autobiography about Maya Angelou. She talks about the discrimination and abuse she was faced with during slavery. The tone of the poem is longing. However, she also wished she was free to do whatever she chose. She knows that some of her dreams are crushed, as she wrote in this line, "But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams"

The mood conveyed by the poem is hopeful since even though she was a slave, she sang for freedom and didn't completely give up. The mood is shown in the last stanza. Although the bird is afraid and tied up, she still has the courage to sing and let her voice be heard.


I chose this poem since I believe she has an interesting background and the poems she wrote were also very interesting. Her poems were influenced by her background as an African American woman and her troubled childhood.. She was a very artistically talented woman and she received many awards for her accomplishments.

Works Cited

"Maya Angelou." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.

"Maya Angelou." A&E Networks Television, 06 Feb. 2015. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.

Angelou, Maya. “Caged Bird.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.


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