The Heart of a Woman

The Heart of a Woman

by Maya Angelou


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In The Heart of a Woman Maya Angelou leaves California with her son, Guy, to go to New York. There she enters the society and world of black artists and writers. Not since her childhood has she lived in an almost black environment, and she is surprised at the obsession her new friends have with the white world around them. She stays for a while with John and Grace Killens and begins to read her writing at the Harlem Writers Guild. She continues to sing, most notably at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, but more and more she begins to take part in the struggle of black Americans for their rightful place in the world. She helps organize a benefit cabaret for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and then is appointed Martin Luther Kings Northern Coordinator.

Shortly after that, through her friend Abbey Lincoln, she takes one of the lead parts in Genet's The Blacks (it was a remarkable cast, including Godfrey Cambridge, Roscoe Lee Brown, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, Raymond St. Jacques, and Lou Gossett), and even writes music for the production.

In the meantime her personal life has taken a tempestuous turn. She has left the New York bail bondsman she was intending to marry and has fallen in love with a South African freedom fighter named Vusumzi Make, who sweeps her off her feet and eventually takes her to London and then to Cairo, where, as her marriage begins to break up, she becomes the first female editor of the English-language magazine.

The Heart of a Woman is filled with unforgettable vignettes of famous people, from Billie Holiday to Malcolm X, but perhaps most important is the story of Maya Angelou's relationship with her son. Because this book chronicles, finally, the joys and the burdens of a black mother in America and how the son she had cherished so intensely and worked for so devotedly finally grows to be a man.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375500725
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/01/1997
Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 490,671
Product dimensions: 5.75(w) x 8.55(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Maya Angelou was raised in Stamps, Arkansas. In addition to her bestselling autobiographies, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Heart of a Woman, she wrote numerous volumes of poetry, among them Phenomenal Woman, And Still I Rise, On the Pulse of Morning, and Mother. Maya Angelou died in 2014.


Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Date of Birth:

April 4, 1928

Place of Birth:

St. Louis, Missouri


High school in Atlanta and San Francisco

Read an Excerpt

The Harlem Writer's Guild was meeting at John's house, and my palms were sweating and my tongue was thick.  The loosely formed organization, without  dues or membership cards, had one strict rule: any invited guest could sit in  for three meetings, but thereafter, the visitor had to read from his or her  work in progress.  My time had come.

Sara Wright and Sylvester Leeks  stood in a corner talking softly.  John Clarke was staring at titles in the  bookcase.  Mary Delaney and Millie Jordan were giving their coats to Grace  and exchanging greetings.  The other writers were already seated around the  living room in a semicircle.

John Killens walked past me, touching my  shoulder, took his seat and called the meeting to order.

"O.K.,  everybody.  Let's start." Chairs scraped the floor and the sounds  reverberated in my armpits.  "As you know, our newest member, our California  singer, is going to read from her new play.  What's the title,  Maya?"

"One Love, One Life."  My usually deep voice leaked out  high-pitched and weak.

A writer asked how many acts the play had.  I  answered again in the piping voice, "So far only one."

Everyone  laughed; they thought I was making a joke.

"If everyone is ready, we  can begin." John picked up his note pad.  There was a loud rustling as the  writers prepared to take notes.

I read the character and set  description despite the sudden perversity of my body.  The blood pounded in  my ears but not enough to drown the skinny sound of my voice.  My hands shook  so that I had to lay the pages in my lap, but that was not a good solution  due to the tricks my knees were playing.  They lifted voluntarily, pulling my  heels off the floor and then trembled like disturbed Jello.  Before I  launched into the play's action, I looked around at the writers expecting but  hoping not to see their amusement at my predicament.  Their faces were  studiously blank.  Within a year, I was to learn that each had a horror story  about a first reading at the Harlem Writers Guild.

Time wrapped itself  around every word, slowing me.  I couldn't force myself to read faster. The  pages seemed to be multiplying even as I was trying to reduce them.  The play  was dull, the characters, unreal, and the dialogue was taken entirely off the  back of a Campbell's soup can.  I knew this was my first and last time at the  Guild.  Even if I hadn't the grace to withdraw voluntarily, I was certain the  members had a method of separating the wheat from the chaff.

"The End."  At last.

The members laid their notes down beside their chairs  and a few got up to use the toilets.  No one spoke.  Even as I read I knew  the drama was bad, but maybe someone would have lied a little.

The  room filled.  Only the whispering of papers shifting told me that the jury  was ready.

John Henrik Clarke, a taut little man from the South,  cleared his throat.  If he was to be the first critic, I knew I would receive  the worst sentence.  John Clarke was famous in the group for his keen  intelligence and bitter wit.  He had supposedly once told the FBI that they  were wrong to think that he would sell out his home state of Georgia; he added that he would give it away, and if he found no takers he would even pay  someone to take it.

"One Life.  One Love?"  His voice was a  rasp  of disbelief.  "I found no life and very little love in the play from the  opening of the act to its unfortunate end."

Using superhuman power, I  kept my mouth closed and my eyes on my yellow pad.

He continued, his  voice lifting.  "In 1879, on a March evening, Alexander Graham Bell  successfully completed his attempts to send the human voice through a little  wire.  The following morning  some frustrated playwright, unwilling to build  the necessary construction plot, began his play with a phone call."

A  general deprecating murmur floated in the air.

"Aw, John" and "Don't  be so mean" and "Ooo Johnnn, you ought to be ashamed."  Their moans were facetious, mere accompaniment to their relish.

Grace invited everyone  to drinks, and the crowd rose and started milling around, while I stayed in  my chair.

Grace called to me.  "Come on, Maya.  Have a drink. You  need it."  I grinned and knew movement was out of the question.

Killens came over.  "Good thing you stayed.  You got some very important criticism." He, too, could slide to hell straddling knotted greasy rope.   "Don't just sit there.  If they think you're too sensitive, you won't get  such valuable criticism the next time you read."

The next time? He  wasn't as bright as he looked.  I would never see those snotty bastards as  long as I stayed black and their asses pointed toward the ground.  I put a  nasty-sweet smile on my face and nodded.

"That's right, Maya Angelou,  show them you can take anything they can dish out.  Let me tell you  something." He started to sit down beside me, but mercifully another writer  called him away.

I measured the steps from my chair to the door. I  could make it in ten strides.

"Maya, you've got a story to  tell."

I looked up into John Clarke's solemn face.

"I think I  can speak for the Harlem Writer's Guild.  We're glad to have you.  John  Killens came back from California talking about your talent.  Well, in this  group we remind each other that talent is not enough.  You've got to work.   Write each sentence over and over again, until it seems you've used every  combination possible, then write it again.  Publishers don't care much for  white writers." He coughed or laughed.  "You can imagine what they think about black ones.  Come on.  Let's get a drink."

I got up and followed him without a first thought.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"I know that not since the days of my childhood, when people in books were more real than the people one saw every day, have I found myself SO moved."

— James Baldwin

"Full of laughter and tears, love and hate, failures and triumphs, and above all, understanding."

— John O. Killens

"Gather Together in My Name

"Gather Together in My Name is part of a select body of literature that includes The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Claude Brown's Manchild in the Promised land, and Ernest J. Gaines's The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Maya Angelou regards the world and herself with intelligence and wit; she records the events of her life with style and grace."

— William McPherson, The Washington Post Book World

"Here the 'caged bird' soars, and sings in a voice as rich and funny, passionate and mellow as any writer I know."

— Shana Alexander

Reading Group Guide

1. What is the significance of Maya quitting show business to become a civil rights activist?

2. Maya's husband Make is a freedom fighter--yet he treats Maya as a possession. Why do you think Maya stays with him? Do you think Make sees his own hypocrisy, and why or why not?

3. When approached by a friendly stranger, Maya's mother remarks, "He's colored and I'm colored, but we are not cousins." What episodes in the memoir might evoke the same response from Maya?

4. The memoir concludes with a poignant scene, as Guy bids farewell to Maya before he goes to college. Guy is characteristically wise, brave, and mature for his years. What do his parting words say about his perceived role in their relationship? How has Maya's role changed?

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The Heart of a Woman 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 42 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In The Heart of a Woman, Maya Angelou describes her life as her son, Guy, grows into an adult. Her anger is evident as a racist homeowner refuses to let her rent and as Guy is discriminated in his new school because he tells where babies really come from. She meets Billie Holiday and receives advice on life and being famous that she remembers coming from a sick and lonely woman. Her move to New York yields many new opportunities, including working to make blacks and whites more equal. Doing this leads to her second marriage and another move. This time she is in Cairo, Egypt and finds a job on as a assistant editor on a newspaper. This book is inspirational, touching, and absorbing. Her struggles remind us how lucky we are to live in this time where segregation is not allowed and blatant racism is unacceptable by modern society. Every young woman should read her book because its inspirational and gives valuable advice without patronizing.
KSMG More than 1 year ago
The Heart of a Woman is about Angelou when she is in her early 30s. Her life was chaotic as a singer-dancer living in New York City. This is a story about a woman finding herself. Ms. Angelou describes her living conditions, being a mother to a son she must let family keep while she gets her feet on the ground, and a marriage to a man that ends. Ms. Angelou describes her involvement with the Harlem Writer Group. This leads Ms. Angelou to express herself through writing. This book deserves four thumbs up for the way Angelou describes her life. It could be easily read in a couple of days. It would appeal to men and women in different stages of life. Its central themes are the joys and burdens of being a black mother in America as the son she had at 16 finally grows into a man. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the racial problems that the U.S. had and is still having since Martin Luther King and Malcolm X’s time.
MACCD More than 1 year ago
Nice book....&.....<...>
Guest More than 1 year ago
I felt that this is a marvelous Boook, at the bigining when she started wrinting, it wasn't easy for her but she never gave up. she is a caring mother and focused a lot about her son Guy well being. As a Teenager this book tought me a lot , it showed me that if you want something in life you have to go get it because it's not going to come to you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading the fourth book of her biography, I think it is a cruel irony that a lot of the mistreatment, abuse and reproach she has suffered has been at the hands of black men. I was outraged at the scene of the 'palaver' and could not understand how an intelligent and brilliant, American woman agreed to go along with it, but the fact that she gave in to their 'recomendation' baffles my mind.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really loved this book because it was very inspiring. Maya lets us know that we can achieve anything if you put your mind in to it. This book was very inspirational.
wamser on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good basic story-telling, but lacking in depth.
andersonden on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was very engaging. It's an autobiographical account of Maya Angelou's life from late adolescence through her early 30's (the time her son was growing up). She has led a very interesting life and it made for some exciting and gripping reading. Also, because she is a poet she tends to choose her words very carefully and mindfully.
LJT on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've loved Maya Angelous's previous autobiographies. I enjoy her poetry and greatly admire her achievements. This book I did not enjoy as much because I found that one of my heroines has element of racism that is truly unfortunate, though, perhaps, understandable.
earthfriendly on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Just finished this book and thought it was great, but I wouldn't read it unless you've already read the previous three.
eargent on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A book that follows another Chapter of Maya Angelou's life. I enjoyed this one but not as much as the "Caged Bird".
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read, everything written by Maya Angelou makes you want to stand for something. Let others know see your strength.
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Until I read it all! Grrreeeaaat!!! Ms Lisa, BIG Angelou fan.
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