1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
A stunning autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is arguably Maya Angelou’s best-known work. It is a heart-wrenching coming-of-age story that follows Marguerite from ages 3 to 13, and grapples with issues such as racism, trauma, rape, and abandonment. However, as in the poetic image of its title, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings shows us the strength, hope, and courage in Marguerite as she rises beyond the trials and tribulations of her youth.
2. And Still I Rise
And Still I Rise is a soaring collection of poetry published in 1978. In her poems about overcoming hardship and finding joy in love, family, and one’s own pride and self-confidence, Angelou celebrates the beauty and strength of women.
3. “On The Pulse Of Morning”
This poem, written and read on the inauguration day of President Bill Clinton in 1993, is bold and brave. It encourages not just the leaders of the world, but every person to wake up with hope and greet a new day. It’s inspiring and courageous, not surprisingly.
4. Gather Together In My Name
Angelou’s autobiography from the ages of 17-19 is probably the most revealing about where she comes from as a person. It includes a very human look at Angelou, who, during that time, gives birth to her first son; struggles with poverty and her job as a prostitute and dancer to support herself; and handles all of the racism taking place in the 1940s. The book explains how Angelou overcame all of these things, and how she found her true identity through them.
5. Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie
Angelou’s first collection of poetry contains lines that she wrote while performing as a nightclub singer — just one of the many jobs held by the prolific writer prior to literary stardom.
6. “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me”
This is technically a children’s poem, but really, it’s for everyone. “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” is about defying fear and standing up to it with strength and ease. The lessons on how to do just that are wonderfully compelling, and it’s a real delight to read.
7. Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey and Even the Stars Look Lonesome
These two collections of short personal essays, Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now and Even the Stars Look Lonesome were called Angelou’s “wisdom books” by Hilton Als, and include beautiful insights into the author’s life and philosophies.
8. Mom & Me & Mom
This is a really heartbreaking and moving book about Angelou’s relationship with her own mother, Vivian. It’s about how Angelou felt abandoned when her mother sent her to live with their grandmother at the age of 3, and how reuniting later in life sparked a journey to reconciliation.
9. Hallelujah! The Welcome Table
As a single mother, part of how Angelou supported herself was as a cook in a Creole restaurant. Even though she had no formal training, her grandmother (who raised her during her adolescence), ran a small stand where they sold food, and so, she’d begun to learn the art of food and hospitality. Throughout this cookbook, Angelou shares essays and recipes, which will make you hungry as well as make you laugh and cry.
10. Phenomenal Woman
The four poems in this collection, “Phenomenal Woman, “Still I Rise,” “Weekend Glory,” and “Our Grandmothers,” are all an important and vital read because they show that it’s not what’s on the outside that makes us who we are. It doesn’t matter what other people think of you, or what you look like; what matters is how you feel on the inside.
11. Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing?
Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? is Angelou’s fourth volume of poetry and came about during an extremely productive point in her career. Like so many of her other works, there’s an emphasis on survival, even when you’re facing overwhelming obstacles, as well as love lost and the desire to find love. This book in particular showcases Angelou’s control and confidence as a poet, and it’s not one to be passed up.