The Barnes & Noble Review
Acclaimed memoirist Maya Angelou, who began her autobiographical series with the classic 1969 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, comes full circle with this tale of her return from Africa to the United States in 1964 to work with Malcolm X.
Poignantly, the book ends with Angelou writing the first line of I Know Why, as she decides it's time to chronicle her life: "I thought if I wrote a book, I would have to examine the quality in the human spirit that continues to rise despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…Rise and be prepared to move on and ever on."
Indeed, there are many wounds inflicted on Angelou in these pages. After flying from Ghana, she journeys to California to reunite with her mother and brother. On arrival, she learns that Malcolm has been murdered. Her despair is furthered by her realization that the reaction to the killing among San Francisco blacks is matter-of-fact.
After a stint as a nightclub singer, Angelou moves to the Watts section of Los Angeles to do market research on black women. She discovers that many of the Watts women are unhappy with their lives: Their husbands are not working, there are children to take care of, and they are increasingly forced to do more with less. Angelou misses nothing with her keen writer's eye:
"Without work and steady salaries, the people could not envision tomorrows."
Her observations prove to be prophetic, as the 1965 Watts riots break out. Once again, she is witness to the difficulties of African-American life in the mid-20th century.
But there is yet one more tragedy in store for her. In 1968, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. asks her to "travel the country and talk to black preachers" about his message of nonviolent protest. Before she can make the trip, King -- like Malcolm -- is silenced by an assassin's bullet.
It's most fortunate that Angelou has been able to turn her experiences, many of them difficult, into a series of classic memoirs. (Nicholas Sinisi)
Nicholas Sinisi is the Barnes & Noble.com Biography editor.
The sixth volume of Angelou's autobiography recounts the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., leaders for whom the renowned poet and writer had separately pledged to work just weeks before they were murdered in 1965 and 1968, respectively. Both deaths make her quest for purpose as an African-American woman in the anxious 1960s ever more urgent. Using spare, straightforward prose, Angelou recalls her days as the single mother of a difficult teenage son and as a singer who evolves into a storyteller. Some of this material is recycled, most notably the childhood story that constitutes the core of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and some feels more like filler than compelling or essential narrative. But when Angelou bears firsthand witness to the Watts riots, when she offers vignettes of famous friends and when she speaks with heart about the plight of race relations, the story is engaging and informative.
How Angelou came to write her momentous I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings after being stunned by the assassinations of Malcolm X Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Adult/High School-Far from a textbook account, this final volume in the writer's series of six memoirs takes readers into the heart of the civil rights movement. Angelou begins in 1964. When she replanted her feet in America to help Malcolm X, she admittedly left a piece of her heart in Ghana with her son. She was also developing artistically during this time, and finding the means by which to express herself to her country and in her community. Any YA who has aimed to accomplish something meaningful and met with personal loss or the disappointment of bad timing, will identify with her. Before she was able to help Malcolm X form the Organization of African-American Unity, he was assassinated. Her mother and protective brother buttressed her spirits, and encouraged her to move forward. From San Francisco to Hawaii and back to California she takes readers into an economically depressed area in Los Angeles before, during, and after it burned. Her next giant step will be appreciated by YAs with an artistic side. She describes performing and writing plays for an African-American theater. Later, after she moved to New York, her pal James Baldwin and others instrumental in changing the view of America in the 1960s are featured prominently. History was in the making and Angelou was in the midst of it as this worthwhile autobiography attests.-Karen Sokol, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The distinguished poet and playwright brings her six-volume cycle of memoirs to a close. Angelou (Even the Stars Look Lonesome) is today among the best-known African-American writers at work-a celebrity, even, thanks to appearances at Bill Clinton's first inauguration, on Sesame Street, and in various Oprah Winfrey productions. But at the beginning of this slender memoir, written with trademark irony and gentle indignation ("Black females, for the most part, know by the time they are ten years old that the world is not much concerned with the quality of their lives or even their lives at all"), she has yet to attain all that. Instead, in the year 1964, we find Angelou in her late 30s, preparing after four years to leave Ghana and the smooth-talking African who's been courting her. She's going home to take on a job as a writer and organizer for Malcolm X. That comes to an end with Malcolm's assassination, which shakes Angelou to the core: "If a group of racists had waylaid Malcolm, killed him in the dark," she writes, "I might have accepted his death more easily. But he was killed by black people as he spoke to black people about a better future for black people and in the presence of his family." Moving back and forth from New York to Los Angeles with stops in between, Angelou spends the '60s in the company of such leaders and writers as Martin Luther King Jr. and James Baldwin, both of whom she portrays respectfully and affectionately. Along the way, she discovers her voice as a writer. In a nice structural turn, her autobiographical cycle ends where it began, with the first sentence of the now-classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Alternately elegiac, meditative, and humorous, a book to savor and remember.
Praise for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
“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.”
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’
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
All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes
“This is a superb account by a great woman who has embraced a difficult destiny with rare intelligence and infectious joie de vivre.”
— The Boston Globe