Themes in Maya Angelou’s autobiographies
Maya Angelou is best known for her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The rest of the books in her series are Gather Together in My Name, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas. All of Angelou’s books describe a sequence of lessons about resisting racist oppression.
About Themes in Maya Angelou’s autobiographies in brief
Maya Angelou is best known for her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The rest of the books in her series are Gather Together in My Name, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas. All of Angelou’s books describe a sequence of lessons about resisting racist oppression. Her autobiographies span almost forty years, beginning from the start of World War II to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The themes encompassed in her seven autobiographies include racism, identity, family, and travel. Angelou was unable to resist a challenge, and she began writing CagedBird with the intention of writing a series of autobiographies, however critics have generally judged the subsequent autobiographies in light of the first book in the series as more successful. The Heart of a Woman, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, A Song Flung Up to Heaven, and Mom & Me & Mom are her last three autobiographies to be published in the US and in the UK. The first autobiography was written in the late 1950s and the last one in the early 1970s, and they are published by Random House in the U.S. and in Europe in the United Kingdom and in Australia in the last two years of the decade. The autobiographies can be placed in the African-American literature tradition of political protest. Their unity underscores one ofAngelou’s central themes: the injustice of racism and how to fight it.
The theme of family and family relationships are important in all of her books. The original goal was to write about the lives of Black women in America, but it evolved in her later volumes to document the ups and downs of her own personal and professional life. She used the autobiography to reimagine ways of writing about women’s lives and identities in a male-dominated society. She worked for several years in Ghana, West Africa, as a journalist, actress, and educator. She was invited back to the US by Malcolm X to work for him shortly before his assassination in 1965. In 1968, King asked her to organize a march, but he too was assassinated on April 4, which also happened to be her birthday. In the months following King’s assassination, so to help lift her spirits, Baldwin brought her to a dinner party at the home of cartoonist Jules Feiffer and his wife Judy in late 1968. The guests began telling stories of their childhoods and Angelou’s stories impressed Judy Feiffser. According to Baldwin, Angelou had a “covert hand’” and advised Loomis to get her to write a book. Angelou refused, since she thought of herself as a poet and playwright. She did not write the book until she was in her 60s and 70s, when she was advised by Loomi to use “a little reverse psychology” to use her “daring’ voice.