All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes
The fifth volume of the autobiographical chronicle begun in I Knew Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970) begins with the arrival of Maya Angelou in the West African nation of Ghana during the euphoria of the early years of independence. Already an established dancer and actress, Angelou journeyed to the capital of Accra in part to enroll her seventeen-year-old son, Guy, in the University of Ghana and in part to recover a sense of self-worth following the break up of the marriage described in The Heart of a Woman (1981).
One important, and familiar, motif concerns the development of her relationship with Guy, who suffers a near-fatal automobile accident shortly after their arrival. The story of Guy’s successful recovery and his gradual assertion of individual selfhood--which Angelou experiences in part as a rejection of her maternal role--anchors the book in the frequently sentimental family-saga genre.
The real strength of the new installment--one of the most satisfying in the sequence--lies in its treatment of specifically Afro-American concerns. The exuberant self-confidence of the Ghanaian people under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah contrasts, sometimes sharply, with the uncertainty of the Afro-American expatriates as they contemplate their own relationship with the struggle for civil rights in their native land. Of particular interest are Angelou’s guarded comments concerning Martin Luther King and the March on Washington and her report on the visit of Malcolm X to Ghana.
Neither a celebration of African/ Afro-American kinship like Alex Haley’s Roots, nor an ironic treatment like Richard Wright’s Black Power, Angelou’s narrative of her search for a “homeland” is written in a familiar, colloquial style that should help maintain and broaden her readership.
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. Baker notes that such autobiographers 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 five autobiographies, Angelou does likewise, and Baker notes that the very titles of her books suggest Angelou’s concern with the dreams of freedom and home.
(The entire section is 1021 words.)