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When selecting a title, Angelou turned to Paul Laurence Dunbar, an African-American poet whose works she had admired for years. Jazz vocalist and civil rights activist Abbey Lincoln suggested the title. With Shakespeare, Angelou has credited Dunbar with forming her "writing ambition". The title of the book comes from the third stanza of his poem "Sympathy":
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings.
This is the third stanza of a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, a poet whom Angelou admired greatly. The poem is entitle "Sympathy."
I found this information in the Wikipedia article about this work.