All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes

by Maya Angelou
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All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1021

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.

Bibliography

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.

Bloom, Lynn Z. “Maya Angelou.” In Afro-American Writers After 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers, edited by Thadious M. Davis and Trudier Harris. Vol. 38 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1985. Contains biographical information, a list of Angelou’s publications, a bibliography of secondary sources about her, and a good analysis of her first four autobiographies. Does not have information about All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, which was published after this article was written.

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 autobiography 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. Blundell notes that Angelou’s self-portrait sheds light on both emerging Africa and the American black 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 autobiography is different from celebrity autobiographies, which are typically self-aggrandizing. Instead, Angelou writes carefully and sensitively about herself and the African American community, weaving adages and bits of folk and street wisdom into her self-portrait.

Gropner, Jackie. Review of All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. Southern Literary Journal 32 (August, 1986): 113. Remarks on the candor and the poetic quality of Angelou’s prose, as well as on the historical value of her book.

Gruesser, John C. “Afro-American Travel Literature and Africanist Discourse.” Black American Literature Forum 24 (Spring, 1990): 5-20. Notes a dichotomy in Western black descriptions of Africa, between Africa as dream and Africa as nightmare. Accuses Angelou of repressing the nightmare and manufacturing incidents, such as the trip to Keta, to confirm the dream. Concludes that All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes is romanticized.

Kallen, Stuart A. Maya Angelou: Woman of Words, Deeds, and Dreams. Edina, Minn.: Abdo and Daughters, 1993.

McPherson, Dolly A. Order Out of Chaos. London: Virago, 1990.

“Maya Angelou.” In Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984. Published before All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes was written, the three essays on Angelou nevertheless are valuable. The first, by Angelou herself, describes her composing rituals and her interest in capturing the sound of black speech. An essay by Selwyn Cudjoe places Angelou’s first three autobiographies in the context of black female autobiography, from Linda Brent onward, and stresses the personal quality of African American communication. An essay by Sondra O’Neale treats Angelou’s autobiographies as self-portraits that are necessary in a country in which black women are devalued and stereotyped.

Neville, Jill. “Bubbling Over.” The Times Literary Supplement, August 28, 1987, 922. Criticizes Angelou’s autobiography for its “airy prose” and tendency toward “sentimental black agit-prop.” Neville acknowledges the readability of Angelou’s self-portrait but praises her first two autobiographies as her best and views her recent books as less compelling.

Rowe, Anne. “Maya Angelou.” In American Women Writers, edited by Linda Mainiero. Vol. 1. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1979-1982. This brief biographical sketch provides a birthdate, listing of marriages, and given name, as well as a bibliography.

Shapiro, Miles. Maya Angelou. New York: Chelsea House, 1994.

Shuker, Nancy. Maya Angelou. Morristown, N.J.: Silver Burdett, 1990.

Stuttaford, Genevieve. Review of All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, by Maya Angelou. Publishers Weekly 229 (February 21, 1988): 159. Points to the moving quality of Angelou’s autobiography insofar as it probes the disillusionment, home-sickness, and hurt that Angelou experiences in Ghana.

Tate, Claudia, ed. Black Women Writers at Work. New York: Continuum, 1983. Contains Tate’s interview with Maya Angelou. Angelou believes that the obligation of the black writer is to be as good at her craft and as good a person as possible. She also wants to be a responsible role model for young people, to whom she wishes to convey the message “You must not be defeated.”

Time. Review. CXXVII (March 31, 1986), p. 72.

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