Form and Content (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoesis the fifth of Maya Angelou’s autobiographical works. Her previous four self-portraits—I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), Gather Together in My Name (1974), Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (1976), and The Heart of a Woman (1981)—trace Angelou’s life from her childhood in Stamps, Arkansas, to her work during the 1960’s as a civil rights worker in the United States and abroad. The fifth self-portrait is both a chronological and a thematic extension of Angelou’s previous books, as it describes her four-year stay in Ghana and her effort to understand herself.
While Angelou wears traveling shoes in all of her books, her 1986 memoir particularly attests why those shoes are necessary apparel for a woman in perpetual search of herself and of a home in which she hopes to find security and meaning. The dedication of the book and its opening epigraph suggest the work’s focus upon this search: Angelou dedicates her book to “all the fallen ones who were passionately and earnestly looking for a home.” She then uses a line from a famous spiritual to underscore the search for a home: “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.”
As the book opens, Angelou, at the age of thirty-three, has decided to pursue her quest for roots in Ghana, having recently worked in Cairo as a journalist. She embarks on her journey...
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All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (Magill's Literary Annual 1987)
Maya Angelou is writing perhaps the longest series of autobiographical volumes in contemporary American letters. The serial autobiography has a distinguished history, and other black Americans have written their life histories in several parts. Frederick Douglass, Langston Hughes, and Richard Wright are names that come immediately to mind. What is unique about Angelou, however, is the number of autobiographical works she has produced, bringing her into the company of women who have published multivolume memoirs or diaries—women such as Anne Morrow Lindbergh or Anaïs Nin.
The form that Angelou is creating is indeed akin to memoir, but it still has the crafted, worked quality of the true autobiography. She writes with a doubleness of point of view (the narrator’s perspective at the time of the event as well as at the time of telling) and uses the telling incident to underline overall theme, as the wise teller makes sense of her life. Journals or diaries cannot do this, being written to the moment, and a memoir cannot either, since it is chronological only, usually with little attention to theme or structure and much emphasis on famous persons. What Angelou is doing is more like fiction, with her own life as raw material.
In her first volume, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), the metaphor of the cage unifies the work, beginning...
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Form and Content (Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series)
Though she is known for many things—writing poetry, acting, directing, dancing—Maya Angelou is probably most famous for her autobiographies, of which All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes is the fifth. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), Gather Together in My Name (1974), Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (1976), and The Heart of a Woman (1981) relate Angelou’s beginnings in Stamps, Arkansas, and depict her internal and external journeys leading to Ghana, the primary locale of All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. Collectively, these self-portraits portray, as the title of the fourth volume suggests, the heart of this woman; individually, each demonstrates the autobiographer’s effort to tell her story in a prose form that frequently is poetic and musical.
All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes begins with a sensitive description of Ghana: “The breezes of the West African night were intimate and shy, licking the hair, sweeping through cotton dresses with unseemly intimacy, then disappearing into the utter blackness.” This prose is made more dramatic by the structure of the book: Short sections of mostly description, lacking chapter titles or numbers, emerge as virtual vignettes of a country Angelou chooses as her own because, as she writes, she has been searching for a safe haven, a home: “We had come home, and if home was not what we had...
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Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes is the fifth in Maya Angelou’s multi-volume series of autobiographies that began with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970). That first volume treated her girlhood in Arkansas; this one takes up her life as an adult with her grown-up son in Africa, where she seeks her African roots. A book about heritage, it is also about the competing demands on a woman who is mother, artist, lover, and expatriate.
After beginning with a brief explanation why she and her son, Guy, are in Africa—so that he might enroll at the University of Ghana at Accra—Angelou then describes her anxiety when he is seriously injured in an automobile accident. Although traumatic, this event is fortuitous because it is the reason that Angelou decides to remain in Accra rather than go on to Liberia, where she has been promised a job. Angelou devotes most of the rest of the book to a physical as well as emotional exploration of her relationship to Ghana as a member of the African diaspora.
Angelou soaks up Africa like an eager sponge. She is the beneficiary of its healing power, is impressed by its respect for human life and differing customs, and longs to possess the Africans’ deep sense of self-appreciation. Along with her exhilaration in discovering Africa, however, comes self-doubt. She wonders if she or any African American can ever achieve the sense of rootedness—of belonging to the same soil as their...
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Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
The title of The Heart of a Woman (1981), the autobiography that preceded this one and the fourth in the series, provides a clue to understanding All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. In many respects, this book continues the story of the multilayered heart of an African American woman. Angelou is a mother, anxious about her child’s maturing and growing away from her. She is a political émigré, intensely interested in the racial politics of her time. She is an artist, describing the ambivalence of performing before white Europeans and black African kings. She is an African American, yearning to feel a part of her motherland. One of a distinguished line of autobiographical writers that includes Harriet Jacobs and Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou seeks to unify the disparate roles that African American women have had to play and to reconcile the often-painful elements in her consciousness with a positive sense of her own identity.
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The writing in All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes is consistently professional, rich, and full, reflecting Angelou's usual poetic texture. There is a polish to the writing in All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes that exceeds her previous books. Oft-quoted sections on the bridge and castle walls and on Dunkwa are especially moving. Her descriptive passages are vivid and captivating. To provide variety and to keep reader interest, Angelou sprinkles in jokes and poems. This book includes more weighty insights than usual and these are carefully balanced with lighter sketches. Flashback is utilized on occasion and many passages are independent and could be inserted at different points.
All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes seems quieter in tone than its preceding stories. It takes place in another country, but contains a strong sense of home and a rediscovery of homeland. There is not the constant shifting from pillar to post mandated by life in Angelou's other books. There is much quiet reflection, and introspection. This is an ending — to dependent son relationship, to exile, to blind prejudice. But every sunset is followed by a new day, and every ending sets the stage for a new beginning. Angelou's faithful audience awaits her next report on her new life in her old world.
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Maya Angelou's two years in Ghana in the early 1960s provide the material for the fifth book in her continuing autobiography. The title, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986), is an obvious play on the popular spiritual, "All God's Chillun Got Wings." A clever reference to the ongoing search for place is couched in terms mindful of the black's ultimate home. Living in Ghana when she was in her mid-thirties — a mature woman — she wrote this book when she was in her mid-fifties.
Critics greeted All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes with generally kind remarks. The New York Times cited Angelou as "one of the geniuses of Afro-American serious autobiography." Library Journal said the book makes for "absorbing reading," and that her prose sings, just as it did in her memoirs. In addition, readers of All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes will discover "a wealth of information and penetrating impression of the proud, optimistic new country" of Ghana. Angelou read the entire manuscript to her close friend, the late Julian Mayfield, who verified the book's accuracy, other than questioning the mention of a British involvement in the assassination attempt on Nkrumah.
Angelou's purpose in writing All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes is to report her responses to the events she encounters during her sojourn in Ghana. Of primary interest is her ongoing quest for a place, a home, a sense of...
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All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes is the fifth in Angelou's series of autobiographies (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969; Gather Together in My Name, 1974; Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas, 1976; and The Heart of a Woman, 1981). Each of the successive books depicts Angelou less as a victim of poverty and prejudice, and more as a force who can change society and take charge of her own life. Here, the confident Angelou, who is a celebrity in American letters, finds herself in an intellectually alien culture in Germany. This spawns fears of prejudice that Angelou has overcome as a successful American, and it causes her to reexamine the issue of race.
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Baker, Houston A., Jr. “Part Five: Into Africa.” The New York Times Book Review, May 11, 1986, 14. Situates Angelou’s autobiography within the American tradition of multiple-volume self-portraits. Notes that such writers as Frederick Douglass, Langston Hughes, and Chester Himes have contributed to this kind of serial autobiography by writing about the ways in which spirit and courage can overcome oppression. In her memoirs, Angelou does likewise, and Baker notes that the very titles of her books suggest Angelou’s concern with the dreams of freedom and home.
Blundell, Janet Boyarin. Review of All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, by Maya Angelou. Library Journal 111 (March 15, 1986): 64. Examines Angelou’s memoir as a chronicle of her experience in Ghana and also as an exploration of Angelou’s maternal emotions as she watches her son Guy grow to manhood. Notes that Angelou’s self-portrait sheds light on both emerging Africa and the African American community.
Coleman, Wanda. Review of All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, by Maya Angelou. The Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 13, 1986, 4. Argues that Angelou’s work is different from celebrity autobiographies, which are typically self-aggrandizing. Instead, Angelou writes carefully and sensitively about herself and the African American...
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