Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

As the most famous work by Angelou, it’s worth referring readers of her poetry to her first and—by many accounts—best work. This reference is also valuable, since it’s in Caged Bird that Angelou discusses the circumstances that fostered her love for poetry.

W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

Du Bois is one of the Black authors whose writing first inspired Angelou as a young person. The Souls of Black Folk made a particular impression on her in its discussion of the African American musical tradition of spirituals, which Du Bois referred to as “sorrow songs.” 

James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain

Baldwin was a close friend of Angelou’s. In fact, he is the one who encouraged her to write her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Though quite different from Angelou’s work, Baldwin is nonetheless an important contemporary, and one who very much shared Angelou’s investment in forging a better future.