Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
A Song Flung Up to Heaven begins in 1964 with Angelou returning to the United States from Ghana in order to help with the Civil Rights movement, specifically to write and organize for Malcolm X. Shortly after she lands in California, he is assassinated before her work with him can begin. Her brother takes his grief-stricken sister to Hawaii, where she sings in nightclubs, with no notable success. Returning to California, she works as a door-to-door surveyor in the Watts District of Los Angeles, thus getting to know the people’s poverty and anger. Therefore, she is not surprised by the outbreak of violence and senses the riots before she learns of them.We smelled the conflagration before we heard it, or even heard about it. . . . Burning wood was the first odor that reached my nose, but it was soon followed by the smell of scorched food, then the stench of smoldering rubber. We had one hour of wondering before the television news reporters arrived breathlessly.
After a stormy encounter with her former lover, Angelou returns to New York, where she meets Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and agrees to promote the movement. However, history repeats itself. Before she can go south for the movement, King also is assassinated. Again devastated, Angelou becomes a recluse until writer James Baldwin invites her to a dinner with glittering New York literati that reawakens her passion for writing. Friends encourage her to write and to begin by writing her life....
(The entire section is 508 words.)
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