I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

Illustrated by Shabazz Larkin

Introduced by Tayari Jones

Maya Angelou’s empowering and moving memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is newly introduced and illustrated in this beautifully crafted Folio edition.

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‘She taught us all that it is okay to be your regular old self, whatever that is – your poor self, your broken self, your brilliant, bold phenomenal self.’

  1. Michelle Obama

A great American classic, Maya Angelou’s powerful and perceptive memoir forged a path for Black American women’s writing and made her an international icon. Written in 1969, it recounts Angelou’s early experiences as a woman of colour in the segregated Deep South where, surrounded by bigotry and poverty, daily life was lived on a knife-edge. She experiences the joys and sorrows of Black American life, but with grit and determination, and the warmth of the community that raised her, Angelou forges a different life for herself. Her growth into womanhood finally becomes one of celebration and achievement. This new edition celebrates the literary magnitude of the book, as well as its enduring appeal. Artist Shabazz Larkin has created a beautiful binding design and a series of electrifying illustrations that capture key moments in the author’s girlhood, while award-winning novelist Tayari Jones conveys why this book has touched the hearts and minds of millions of readers in her emotive new introduction.

Winner of Best Book Cover award (Professional) at World Illustration Awards 2021.

‘A brilliant writer, and a truly phenomenal woman’

  1. Barack Obama

Production Details

Quarter-bound in blocked cloth, with printed and blocked textured paper sides

Set in Minion

256 pages

Frontispiece plus 5 colour illustrations including one double-page spread

Plain slipcase

8¾˝ x 5½˝

Introduction by award-winning novelist

‘I am moved by Angelou’s brilliance, but also shaken by the enduring relevance of her observations.’

  1. Tayari Jones, from her introduction

American author Tayari Jones has collected many awards and accolades for her four novels; her latest, An American Marriage, won the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction, and was selected for both Oprah’s Book Club and Barack Obama’s reading list. In her newly commissioned introduction, this important contemporary novelist explores her personal relationship with Angelou’s memoir, as well as taking the reader on a fascinating journey through its vast social, historical, racial and feminist scope, and its positive influence on generations of readers. It is a powerful essay that applauds the greatness of Angelou’s work, but it is also steeped in sorrow that the passing decades have failed to lessen the relevance of the author’s experience.

Striking illustrations by a renowned artist

‘It was important for me not to ignore the devastation, but also to show the beauty of what it looks like to overcome it.’

  1. Shabazz Larkin, on illustrating this edition

The illustrations are a riotous celebration of the narrative and express the hope and familial affection that pours from every page. Artist and creative director Shabazz Larkin has worked with brands including Sony and Pepsi, as well as a recent collaborative project with the Obama Foundation. For this commission, Larkin used inspirational women from his own family as life models to help him achieve a greater connection with Angelou’s story: Momma singing in church is the artist’s own mother, while his own sister clings to his younger self’s hand in the image depicting Angelou and her brother at the train station. The vivid colours, sweeping brushstrokes and subtle symbolism depict snapshots of Angelou’s life, while Larkin’s dazzling binding design reflects the rollercoaster ride that awaits readers.

An unconventional memoir of an extraordinary life

A voracious reader and prodigious writer from a very young age, Angelou had an extraordinary talent for transporting readers to the heart of her story and into the lives of its characters. Her writing is both powerful and poetic and it is easy to forget that this is a memoir: the first of seven that she would eventually write about her incredible life. It begins with her parents’ separation, when three-year-old Angelou and her four-year-old brother Bailey were sent from their St Louis home to live with their grandmother in a sleepy town in Arkansas. They moved back and forth, experiencing both city life and the rural Deep South, and spending a long period with their birth mother in San Francisco. Racial prejudice permeated every aspect of their lives but somehow hope and optimism prevailed, and this book is an essential social history as much as a brilliantly crafted memoir. Angelou was a writer, poet, professional dancer, activist, and the first Black streetcar conductor in San Francisco but, above all, she was the voice of humanity.


Maya Angelou (1928–2014) was born Marguerite Johnson in St Louis, Missouri. She had a broad career as a singer, dancer, actress, composer, and Hollywood’s first female Black director, but became most famous as a writer, editor, essayist, playwright and poet. As a civil rights activist, Angelou worked for Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. She was also an educator and served as the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University as well as on two presidential committees, for Gerald Ford in 1975 and for Jimmy Carter in 1977. In 2000, Angelou was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton, and in 2010, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the US, by President Barack Obama.

She is best known for her seven autobiographical books: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), which was nominated for the National Book Award; Gather Together in My Name (1974); Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (1976); The Heart of a Woman (1981); All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986); A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002); and Mom & Me & Mom (2013). Among her volumes of poetry are A Brave and Startling Truth (1995); I Shall Not Be Moved (1990); Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? (1983); And Still I Rise (1978); and Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ’fore I Diiie (1971), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

About Tayari Jones

Tayari Jones is the author of four novels: Leaving Atlanta (2002), The Untelling (2005), Silver Sparrow (2011) and An American Marriage (2018), which won the Aspen Words Prize, the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and appeared on Barack Obama’s summer reading list as well as his end-of-year roundup. Born in Atlanta, Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, University of Iowa, and Arizona State University. The recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a United States Artist Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship and a Radcliffe Institute Bunting Fellowship, she is also a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Jones is currently professor of Creative Writing at Emory University and an Andrew Dickson White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University.

About Shabazz Larkin

Shabazz Larkin is an American artist, painter, writer, illustrator, book-maker and product designer. He has worked as an art director for many creative advertising agencies and for some of the world’s largest brands from Pepsi to Sean Combs, and helped Barack Obama launch the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, Obama’s first initiative after leaving the White House. Larkin lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where he has become a rising voice in the fine art world. He paints portraits of Black people in stark black or red skin, a rebellion against Eurocentric notions of beauty, and is best known for his desire to capture the beauty of resilience in Black culture. His technique of vandalising photographs, overwhelming use of colour and bold typography veils his true intention to explore issues of race, justice and religion. Larkin’s many projects and interests include the God Speaks Project, which documents accounts of normal people’s encounters with God, which he has begun writing on oversized paper and placing around Nashville. He is also the founder of Larkin Art & Company, creating a line of creative products that bridge the mindfulness gap for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, including children’s books with Black protagonists, a family game that celebrates the intersection of African and American culture, and self-care tools that leverage Black culture. His books have environmental themes and include Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table (2013) and The Thing About Bees (2019).


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