(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Coulthard, R. “Poetry as Politics: Maya Angelou’s Inaugural Poem, ’On the Pulse of Morning.’” Notes on Contemporary Literature 28, no. 1 (January, 1999): 2-5.

Hagen, Lyman B. “Poetry.” In Heart of a Woman, Mind of a Writer, and Soul of a Poet: A Critical Analysis of the Writings of Maya Angelou. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1997.

Koyana, Siphokazi, and Rosemary Gray. “Growing up with Maya Angelou and Sindiwe Magona: A Comparison.” Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Comparative Studies 7 (November, 2001).

McPherson, Dolly A. Order Out of Chaos: The Autobiographical Works of Maya Angelou. New York: Peter Lang, 1990.

McWhorter, John. “Saint Maya: A Song Flung Up to Heaven.” The New Republic, May 20, 2002.

Moore, Opal. “Learning to Live: When the Bird Breaks from the Cage.” In Censored Books: Critical Viewpoints, edited by Nicholas J. Karolides, Lee Burress, and John M. Kean. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2001.

Neubauer, Carol. “Maya Angelou: Self and a Song of Freedom in the Southern Tradition.” In Southern Women Writers: The New Generation, edited by Tonnette Bond Inge. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1990.

Saunders, James Robert. “Breaking Out of the Cage: The Autobiographical Writings of Maya Angelou.” The Hollins Critic 28 (October, 1991): 1-11.

Sylvester, William. “Maya Angelou: Overview.” In Contemporary Poets, edited by Thomas Riggs, 6th ed. New York: St. James Press, 1996.

Walker, Pierre. “Racial Protest, Identity, Words, and Form in Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” College Literature 22, no. 3 (1995): 91-105.