I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Book Awards

Instructor: Jacob Belknap

Jake has taught English in middle and high school, has a degree in Literature, and has a master's degree in teaching.

'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' is one of the most influential autobiographies written in the second half of the 20th century. Maya Angelou's work drew the focus of organizations and the general public as well.

Book Synopsis

Have you ever had to check a book's cover to make sure it wasn't a journal? Many people may have had a similar struggle when reading Maya Angelou's autobiographical novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Sometimes an author seems to capture a thought many other people have or even struggle to understand. For Angelou, this translated to award considerations and joining popular and prestigious lists.

Angelou's 1969 book tells the troubled story of her own life as she grows up. It chronicles the time from when the author moved in with her grandmother at three until she gave birth at 16. In this story, the author connects her personal struggles of dealing with abandonment, rape and molestation, and the question of identity within the larger communal struggles of growing up as a black girl in the American South. Her straightforward writing about important topics during the height of the Black Power Movement helped gain recognition by awards organizations and the general public.

National Book Award Nominee

In 1970, Angelou's book was nominated for the prestigious National Book Award. Although the book did not win the award that year, just being nominated is great recognition. The National Book award is presented to U.S. authors for books published in the United States during the award year. The National Book Foundation was established in 1988 with a mission to 'to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of good writing in America.'

National Book Award Finalist award

Literarian Award Recipient

Although I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings did not win the National Book Award in 1970, in 2013, the National Book Foundation awarded the book and its author the Literarian Award. The Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community is an honorary National Book Award given to an author 'whose life and work exemplify the goals of the National Book Foundation to expand the audience for literature and to enhance the cultural value of literature in America.' This was Angelou and the book's first major U.S. literary prize.

Dave Eggers, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and National Public Radio's Terry Gross are among those who have received the Literarian Award.

TIME Magazine List

Aside from direct awards, it is also important to look at its inclusion in lists to gauge a book's reception. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is on TIME magazine's list of the All-TIME 100 Nonfiction Books. TIME magazine put out a list in 2011 of the All-TIME 100 Nonfiction Books, which documents the 100 best and most influential written in English since 1923. With only 100 selections in close to 90 years of time, this was an honor.

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