I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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Date: 1983

Region: North America

Subject: Explicit Sexuality, Language

Medium: Literature


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Artist: Maya Angelou

Confronting Bodies: Schools and parents in several American states, the Alabama State Textbook Committee

Dates of Action: Ongoing since 1983

Location: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.

Description of Artwork: Maya Angelou's first autobiographical novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, features her childhood, from when she moved into her grandmother's house after her parents divorce. Some of its controversial elements include graphic rape, teenage pregnancy, homosexuality, life in segregated Arkansas and homelessness.

The Incident: Since 1983, schools throughout the United States have tried to ban I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings even though it is celebrated for its elegant prose. Parents, schools and related organizations have argued that the book encourages deviant behavior because of its references to lesbianism, premarital sex, cohabitation, pornography and violence. The book's profanity has also caused its removal from school curriculum and library shelves. The Alabama State Textbook Committee accused it of encouraging "bitterness and hatred toward white people."

Results of Incident: Some schools have removed the book from their classes and libraries, however, many have decided to retain the book. Today, the book is still among the most challenged books in American schools.

Source: Censorship, A World Encyclopedia, D. Jones