Georgia Van Vlient
“A Song Flung Up to Heaven”, which was published in 2002, begins with Maya Angelou’s return from Africa in 1965, shortly before the assassination of Malcolm X, with whom she had intended to work with. The book covers those devastating periods of her life in civil rights work as the northern coordinator for Marin Luther King, as well as other events of the 1960s. People died and get injured, and thousands of people got arrested. Angelou vividly recalls scenes of rioting in the Watts area of Los Angeles.
Angelou’s life has certainly been a full one: from the hardscrabble Depression-era South to pimp, prostitute, supper-club chanteuse, coordinator for Martin Luther King, comrade of Malcolm X and eyewitness to the Watts riots. The woman first appears in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” as a little girl so nervous at an Easter recitation in church. When Angelou was young, her hard experience mainly came from a conflict family with fight, desperation, and violence. I could never hope to taste as much of life as she has; and if my lot were as rich as hers, I would more likely wind up in therapy than flattering Bill Clinton with a poem at his inauguration.
For the subject of Maya Angelou's memoirs is finally not herself at all. The subject is African American life. Around the middle of the fourth book I realized that what Angelou intends is to pose the difficult experienced life that she has led as a framework upon which to hang a celebration and a defense of black American people as a whole. And when regarded in this way, as apologetic writing rather than as autobiographical writing, the gaps and the tics in these books make sense, revealing a meaning and a value in Angelou's series.
She is certainly alive to the dangerous seductions of the black victim routine. Dressing down some whites for a perceived insult, Angelou said: "There was a delicious silence. For the moment, I had them and their...