Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In The Heart of a Woman, the fourth volume of the continuing autobiography begun with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), Maya Angelou describes her deepening awareness of the responsibilities of being an African-American woman and mother during the early days of the American civil rights struggle.

Angelou’s account of her personal journey is arranged chronologically in twenty chapters. Chapter I shows her life in California, where she worked as a singer to support her twelve-year-old son, Guy. Chapters 2 through 14 describe her life in New York City as a writer, activist, and mother as she becomes more aware of the volatile political climate of the early 1960’s and its relationship to both African Americans and Africans. Of primary concern is her role as a single African-American mother who must provide emotional stability to a teenage son facing the challenges of a racist society. During this time, she met with the Harlem Writers Guild and became involved with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), first as an organizer of the fund-raiser “Cabaret for Freedom” and later as the SCLC’s northern coordinator. While still at the SCLC, Angelou fell in love with and married (by common law) the African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make in spite of the fact that she was already engaged. The clash of cultures caused conflicts as the independent activist tried to become the traditional African wife and homemaker. Make’s...

(The entire section is 452 words.)