Maya Angelou knew why the caged bird sang, and it was good

Ninety years and eight days ago, Maya Angelou was born to parents that would divorce three years later. Forty-one years later, the autobiographical fiction book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1969. It is on the occasion of Angelou‘s birth that I choose to review my experience of having read the book.

Caged Bird 2(Maya Angelou)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings gets into Angelou’s the harsh reality of growing up to the age of 17 as a black female in the racist America of the 1930s and 1940s. The book gets into difficult assaults on the main characters of Maya and her brother Bailey as they are shuttled between households across the country, suffering brutal attacks on personal dignity, racial and gender identity, ownership of innocence and the right to say yes or no AS CHILDREN in matters of intimate physical contact, and much more.

Caged Bird 3(Angelou‘s poem I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)

The emotional and visceral feelings of consternation raised by the cruel and severe treatment of Maya and Bailey as children are unmistakable, autobiographical, and in raising commentary about the injustice and then later ramifications are unmistakable. In underscoring these indignities as well as the importance of family, fair racial treatment, and the longing for a less-trying background, the narrative structure not only exemplifies the reality yet drives home a notion that the human spirit still can flourish in the presence of events that would embitter people of lesser quality.

Caged Bird 4(A Kathy Coleman Jones poem inspired by Maya Angelou)

In the novel, the character Maya learns in her teenage years while living in San Francisco that consolation for grief from the past can be overcome. The transformation of Maya is the maturity and insight gained by self-love and the insight of friends that the character Maya finds within the pages of books. Maya professes a love for literature in general and classic writers and William Shakspeare specifically. Over the course of the work, the beauty that shows itself is the overcoming of the cages of racism, rape, an inconsistent family life, and other challenges in coming to the realization of choosing love, expression, deeper feelings. Maya the character frees her feelings to sing of the beauty she sees for herself and in others to move from the shackles of a cruel upbringing to the joyful singing of beauty, love, and depth.

Caged Bird 5(Maya Angelou)

In the reading of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I felt the sting of suffering with the characters of Maya and Bailey. I felt the confusion of adolescence with these two, as well as the longing for stability of consistent family, place, and justice. The humanity growth of Maya’s choosing love, literature, and the higher callings of our human family were redeemed, for a book from 1969, worked for me. It is for these reasons that the book rates 4.0-starts-out-of-five.

Matt – Thursday, April 12, 2018


Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ succeeds, for men

Christopher Nolan makes quality films. Three-time Academy Award winner Dunkirk (2017) is the most recent example that I had the opportunity to screen with both pleasure and appreciation. With five other Oscar nominations to its credit, take this as evidence that the world is standing up and taking notice.

The Dunkirk Evacuation as a historic event reflects the evacuation of primarily the British Expeditionary Force, along with some intermingling of the other Allied troops, from the French seaport of Dunkirk (spelled Dunkerque in France) to England in May and June of 1940. At this point in the war, the United States was not supplying troops, sailors, airmen or other combat support. (The USA would become involved after the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor in December 1941).

Using his characteristically complex movie-telling style, Nolan tells three main stories intermingled with one another. Those three events included events the beaches of Dunkirk, the civilian fishing ships and ferries crossing the channel, and the Royal Air Force pilots of the United Kingdom battling the German Luftwaffe in the skies above and surrounding the seaport town of Dunkirk.

Dunkirk 2(Kenneth Branagh)

Largely using age appropriate actors to fill the ranks of the military branches represented in the film, the film is largely inhabited by actors that are lesser known. The most well-known actor in the lot is likely Kenneth Branagh, who besides playing Commander Bolton in Dunkirk has acted in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) and multiple productions based on the writings of William Shakepaere. Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson, one of the small boat captains at the heart of Operation Dynamo,

Dunkirk 4(Mark Rylance)

The film Dunkirk itself depicts a handful of personal stories in near real time. The directorial aim for the aim certainly seemed to be showing the reality of being in this place at this time in history. At the real history as well as in the film, the German army had surrounded the Allied forces to the point of potential surrender. Large naval ships could not pull into the harbor for being drafting too deeply. Had the forces been unable to vacate the seaport, the tide of the war could have swung to an irrevocable Axis advantage.

The experience of the movie Dunkirk is much less about war than Saving Private Ryan (1998), Apoczlypse Now (1979), or Platoon (1986). Dunkirk is the ensemble experience of surviving a military disaster to fight another day. That so much of the force survives is part of what makes the story remarkable. That the movie is told with a largely male audience in mind is also, perhaps, what made the movie one without sufficient crossover appeal to be the Academy Award winner for Best Picture.

Dunkirk 3(Christopher Nolan)

As the reviewer of the movie Dunkirk, it is confession worthy for myself that I originally saw this in a movie theater shortly after its release with a group of male friends. While we watched, the wives of the married folks in the group went shopping at the mall while waiting to join us for dinner. I had come from training earlier in the day. In another confession, I fell asleep in the theater. In watching the movie on Blu-Ray for this review, that disclosure probably isn’t fair to my level of enjoying the film.

My overall feeling is that the historical story of the Dunkirk Evacuation is worthy storytelling. My further belief is that the portrayal of said story in Dunkirk also passes muster if you are interested in larger projections of how history occurred. To me, that there wasn’t a love story attached to the telling is not fatal. If you would prefer that, then I might suggest seeing Pearl Harbor (2001) instead. My preference, given these two, is Dunkirk.

Matt – Saturday, March 10, 2018

A Room of One’s Own offers context

A Room of One’s Own by literary thinker Virginia Woolf serves as college lectures converted into an extended essay. The presentation style precedes and could have informed the recently reviewed The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, which came more than 30-years later and spoke to a different yet potentially overlapping audience. Both aimed to discuss iniquities within their chosen subject matter; both took the form of an extended argument addressed to an audience on rational and compelling grounds.

A Room of One's Own 2(Virginia Woolf)

For the sake of offering a review of Virginia Woolf‘s work, I will end the argument of similar structure here. Woolf structures A Room of One’s Own with a narrative style that feels fictional, by which I mean the intimacy of fiction.

The arguments made are factual and personal, thus serving as persuasion with rhetorical insight based on the branches of literacy chosen; in turn, Woolf looks into lifestyle concepts, family structure, the ability to have one’s own profession and money, the freedoms of supported lifestyle and supported intellectual growth. The hypothetical case of Judith, a would be sister of William Shakespeare, hits its mark. Comparing opportunities of learning, life experience, and the freedom to be focused on the craft of their work shone brightly.

A Room of One's Own 3(A Room of One’s Own)

The subject matter looks logically into the lack of opportunity to get into the sciences, the humanities, poetry and novel and plays. Choosing to review the careers of lady writers including George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Charlotte and Emily Brontë, and Jane Austen were instructive as far as their working conditions, and how the working conditions coupled with a lack of recorded lady writers before them affected their craft is forceful. Articulating how feeling the frustration of the limitations “fenced in” with anger some of these writers, and not others, hit another mark for me.
I cannot adequately step into the female persona and say that the opinions of Virginia Woolf 100% resonate with me. There is truth in the analysis and feeling of the case made, whatever you think of the structure chosen. I cannot refute the main thesis of the narrative of A Room of One’s Own, which is to say that women deserve opportunity and the life experiences to go get their own just merits. My rating of this book is 4-stars out of 5.

Matt – Tuesday, June 27, 2017