University of Sussex
Kamali, Sima Jamal.pdf (3.35 MB)

The caged bird sings on: the political voice of Maya Angelou's autobiographical oeuvre

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posted on 2023-06-09, 14:58 authored by Sima Jalal Kamali
While Maya Angelou has been recognized as a feminist icon and a successful author, publishing more than thirty books and winning numerous awards, the aim of this research is to bring attention to her role as a writer/activist. This thesis analyses her six-volume serial autobiography, which was written over 33 years, and traces the development of Angelou's activism through her life writing. In so doing, this project argues that the success of the first volume, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has obscured the integrity of the series, which consists in the use of Angelou's political voice that has not been recognised before. This research places Angelou in the African American political autobiography tradition, which combines life writing with consciousness raising from the slave narratives onwards. Following the conceptualisation of Patricia Hill Collins, this research theorises Angelou's political voice as a mode of intellectual activism. Adopting an American Studies approach, it shows how Angelou's self-representation as a black artist seeks to intervene in the social and political context of its writing and demonstrates how her life writing is in turn shaped by African American history and activism. While she is known as a pioneer of black feminism, this research, building on recent scholarship in intersectionality, argues that Angelou's work not only addresses the intersection of race and gender, but also class through what Patricia Hill Collins calls the "matrix of domination". Angelou started her writing career with the Black Arts movement, and this thesis traces the influence of this movement beyond the Black Arts era and shows how the debate of art versus propaganda continued to inform her autobiographical work. Since one of the movement's main principles was "art for people's sake", this thesis reads Angelou's life writing through differentiating the narrating "I" from the narrated "I", in which the former functions didactically as a vehicle for Angelou's political consciousness raising of a younger generation.


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  • eng


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