Maya Angelou: A Critical Companion

Overview

Maya Angelou's five-volume autobiography transcends the autobiographical tradition, enriching it with contemporary experience, African American vision, and female sensibility. With these five books, Angelou has created a work of epic scope that covers a quarter century of American and African American history, from the beginning of World War II to the civil rights movement. These volumes stretch over time and place, from Arkansas to Africa, as Angelou grows from a confused child in a Southern town to an ...

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Overview

Maya Angelou's five-volume autobiography transcends the autobiographical tradition, enriching it with contemporary experience, African American vision, and female sensibility. With these five books, Angelou has created a work of epic scope that covers a quarter century of American and African American history, from the beginning of World War II to the civil rights movement. These volumes stretch over time and place, from Arkansas to Africa, as Angelou grows from a confused child in a Southern town to an accomplished adult. Throughout her life journey depicted in the autobiographies, Angelou grapples with the issues of motherhood and race and reveals the struggles of being a black mother in America, extending her perspective in the fourth and fifth volumes to encompass an African setting.

A biographical chapter is enriched by an exclusive interview granted by Angelou, and a chapter on genre discusses Angelou's work in the context of the tradition of American and African American autobiography. A chapter is devoted to each of the five volumes of her serial autobiography—I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings(1970), Gather Together in My Name (1974), Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas(1976), The Heart of a Woman (1981), and All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes(1986). The discussion of each novel features sections on narrative point of view, plot development, character development, thematic issues, style and literary devices, and an alternate critical approach from which to read the work. A complete bibliography of Angelou's work, plus a list of reviews of each work and selected secondary critical and biographical sources, complete the work. This companion is ideal for students, teachers, and others interested in Maya Angelou, the African American experience, and the craft of autobiography.

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Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Melissa Thacker
Two Greenwood series titles provide excellent literary critiques of Angelou's work. In the Literature in Context series, Megna Wallace does an admirable job of putting Angelou's first autobiography in historical context, using the socio-political atmosphere surrounding I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as a means of explaining Angelou's and others' actions as characters in the book. Megna-Wallace discusses violence and racism, segregated school, the African American Church, African American families, child sexual abuse, and censorship in relation to Angelou's book. Additionally, she includes excerpts from important books, articles, and studies discussing these topics. While Megna-Wallace primarily focuses on Caged Bird, Lupton looks at all five of Angelou's autobiographies in her entry in the Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary Writers series. She puts Angelou's work in literary context, not historical. She gives a brief overview of Angelou's life and the art of autobiography. Then she discusses each of Angelou's books looking at narrative point of view, structure, plot development, character development, setting, themes, style and literary devices, and critical reading. Lupton discusses Angelou's books in relation to each other and to other writers, both black and white. Both books are well written and beneficial, but Lupton's is more helpful for students. Megna-Wallace's book, with its in-depth historical overview, is almost too much for high school students wanting to find quick sources of criticism. Only the most dedicated, self-motivated students will be interested. It lends itself better to teachers as each chapter includes study questions and "topics for written or oral explanation." Students will find Maya Angelou invaluable with its clear headings breaking down the stories to their various parts. It is also a good introduction to literary criticism. Lupton writes clearly, illustrating good criticism and explaining literary terms as she goes along. In one of my favorite sections, Lupton looks at each autobiography using a different form of criticism. She uses feminist criticism with Caged Bird, deconstructionism for Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas, Freudian criticism for The Heart of a Woman, and so on. Students of Angelou's autobiographical work will find much enlightenment here. Both books are excellent for what they do, but if you have to make a choice, Maya Angelou: A Critical Companion is the more practical. Note: This review was written and published to address Understanding I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Understanding I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Index. Biblio. VOYA Codes: 4Q 2P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12).
Booknews
A critical companion to Maya Angelou's five-volume autobiography. Lupton (English, Morgan State University) presents a biographical chapter (enriched by an exclusive interview granted by Angelou) followed by a chapter on genre which analyzes her work in the context of the tradition of American and African-American autobiography. Next, she discusses each of the five volumes in terms of narrative point of view, plot and character development, thematic issues, style and literary devices, and an alternate critical approach from which to read the work. She concludes with a complete bibliography, reviews of each work and selected secondary critical and biographical sources. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

MARY JANE LUPTON is professor of English at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. A founder of Women: A Journal of Liberation, she was one of the co-editors of this Baltimore-based magazine from 1970 to 1984. The author of numerous articles on African American literature, she is co-author, with Emily Toth and Janice Delaney, of The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation (1976 and 1989). She is also author of a ground-breaking book, Menstruation and Psychoanalysis (1993).

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Table of Contents

Series Foreword
Acknowledgments
1 The Life and Works of Maya Angelou 1
2 The Genre of Autobiography 29
3 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 1970 51
4 Gather Together in My Name 1974 75
5 Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas 1976 97
6 The Heart of a Woman 1981 115
7 All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes 1986 139
Bibliography 165
Index 175
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