Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local "powhitetrash." At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors ("I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare") will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.
This is the first volume of Ms. Angelou's memoir, which covers her life from her childhood to teen years during the 1930's into World War II. A few years ago I read "The Heart of a Woman," which is the fourth segment and covers her life in the 1960's. While each book stands alone, I could see where a more thorough understanding of her earlier experience would have enhanced my appreciation of the later work. Be that as it may, it was a moving and interesting book. The story is poignant, but she tells it in a matter-of-fact way, while at the same time her mastery of the language and poetic turn of phrase are evident.
This book also appealed to me for being the Arkansas selection in my ongoing "literary roadmap" challenge. Though parts of the story take place in St. Louis and in California, the main part of her formative years were spent in Arkansas, and she sprinkles in short but sharp descriptions of the setting throughout her depiction of the years spent there. The significance of it didn't register with me at the time, but Ms. Angelou read a poem at the inauguration of another famous Arkansas resident.