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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.

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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. Eventually, Angelou moves back to California and, in an effort to make spiritual sense of and triumph over her experiences, begins to write. A Song Flung Up to Heaven ends with her writing the first few lines of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, opening the gate to her most important career and yet circling back nicely to her first, most beloved book.

A Song Flung Up to Heaven engrosses the reader with its portrait of a sensitive woman caught up in some of the most important events of the twentieth century. It is also compelling because of its simple yet poetic and intimate style. Angelou recounts her story as if confiding to a friend. She intersperses narration with heartrending scenes, such as when a phone caller indirectly reveals Malcolm X’s assassination by remarking that New York blacks are crazy because they murdered one of their own kind. Her literary devices enliven the prose, such as when she personifies the strangling effect of hopelessness: “Depression wound itself around me so securely I could barely walk, and didn’t want to talk . . . ” Angelou’s mundane yet refreshing similes are juxtaposed with tumultuous events, as in her response to her lover’s remark that he needs her: “Needed? Needed like an extra blanket? Like air-conditioning? Like more pepper for soup? I resented being thought of as a thing. . . .”

By the time the book ends, the reader is touched and sad, yet inspired. A Song Flung Up to Heaven somehow suggests that if Angelou can transcend such dire circumstances, perhaps others can too.

(The entire section contains 744 words.)

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