The first and best of Maya Angelou's autobiographical writings, in my opinion. While I love this book, there are sections that still confound me.
Like a memoir, the book does not treat her entire life. Angelou focuses instead on her first sixteen years, and there are, within the book, a number of memoir-like moments. When Angelou tells about her grandmother’s initial humiliation, followed by a small victory, after she tries to get a white dentist to treat Maya, we hear both the “real” version, as her grandmother tells it, and the richly fictive version Angelou has constructed and much prefers. Here, Angelou’s grappling with the truth and performing the different layers of the story fit well within the context of memoir.
On the other hand, much of Angelou’s book moves chronologically, with each event building on the next. There are also telling gaps—textual ambiguities that might have been taken up more complexly in a memoir than in an autobiography. For example, Angelou’s mother, unable to deal with Maya’s depression after she is raped by her stepfather, sends Maya back to her grandmother. Her mother’s behavior seems inexplicable and cold. Yet, Angelou moves through this section rapidly and does not reveal the pain she must have felt either as a child or as an adult who re-lives this experience as she writes it.