Just like I’m no stranger to hangovers on Wednesday, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was a repeat offender on the ALA’s most-challenged list. It was the third most-challenged book during the 1999 – 2000 year. Its crimes? Possessing offensive language, racism, homosexuality and sexually explicit scenes, all of which are apparently unsuitable for its age group.
Wait, what age group? The School Library Journal says that the book is recommended for grades 10 and up. While I’ll argue it should be required reading for everyone, 10th grade seems like an appropriate starting age. Unless you’re smart and skipped grades or a dolt and got held back, most students are around sixteen that academic year, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, while an autobiography, is a coming-of-age story. Most people don’t come of age at fifty. Well, maybe Justin Bieber will.
So maybe people were arguing that youth shouldn’t be exposed to the issues of racism, rape or homosexuality that arose in Angelou’s book. So they’re just supposed to go out one day and get raped? That’s how they’ll realize that world isn’t really HappyMagicalElfland? Hey, I’m an admitted jerk, but even I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
And what was Angelou supposed to do? If she experienced racism, was she supposed to ignore it? If she was raped, was she supposed to suppress that? Was she supposed to act as if she never questioned her sexuality? That makes for a poor autobiography, don’t you think? You know, lying about your life. Could you imagine reading a book like that? “I was born on this time of this day of this year. Then I did stuff. Now I do other stuff. The end.”
In short, Angelou wrote a true account of true events that (truly!) happened. And for that, her work was criticized because some people didn’t want to admit the world isn’t as nice as they were led to believe.
Maybe Bieber isn’t the only one that needs to grow up.