Books by Maya Angelou

MOM & ME & MOM by Maya Angelou
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: April 2, 2013

"A tightly strung, finely tuned memoir about life with her mother."
Angelou (Letters to My Daughter, 2008, etc.) has given us the opportunity to read much of her life, but here she unveils her relationship with her mother for the first time. Read full book review >
LETTER TO MY DAUGHTER by Maya Angelou
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Sept. 30, 2008

"A slim volume packed with nourishing nuggets of wisdom."
Life lessons from the celebrated poet. Read full book review >
AMAZING PEACE by Maya Angelou
POETRY
Released: Sept. 23, 2008

Angelou's poem considers peace as a joyous concept that rises up during the Christmas season, drawing in and including those of all faiths, sweeping everyone along with its power. This visual interpretation of the poem follows the residents of a small town as they trek through deep snow to gather at their town hall for a holiday celebration. Although there are lighted Christmas trees throughout the town, this particular celebration is a nondenominational community dinner and candle-lighting, with people of many faiths and backgrounds joining together in peaceful solidarity. Johnson and Fancher's understated, mixed-media illustrations use fabric scraps for plaid and checked coats on the townspeople, with darker fabrics for buildings and thick brushstrokes of white paint over cloth for the snow. Although doubtlessly well-intended, the author's invitation to Buddhists, Confucians, Jains, Jews and Muslims—not to mention "Nonbelievers"—to join in the celebration of "the Birth of Jesus Christ / Into the great religions of the world" is at best tone-deaf and at worst frankly assimilationist. (Picture book/poetry. 6 & up)Read full book review >
A SONG FLUNG UP TO HEAVEN by Maya Angelou
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: April 9, 2002

"Alternately elegiac, meditative, and humorous, a book to savor and remember. "
The distinguished poet and playwright brings her six-volume cycle of memoirs to a close. Read full book review >
EVEN THE STARS LOOK LONESOME by Maya Angelou
NON-FICTION
Released: Sept. 1, 1997

Angelou's (All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, 1986, etc.) sixth work of autobiographical reflection again treads ballerina-like on the fine line dividing saying too much and not enough on a variety of heartfelt subjects. These compelling pieces span the full range of Angelou's concerns. In "Poetic Passage," she speaks with admiration of the "desperate traveler who teaches us the most profound lesson and affords us the most exquisite thrills. She touches us with her boldness and vulnerability, for her sole preparation is the fierce determination to leave wherever she is." No words could better describe the impact of Angelou's writing at its best. Whether she is exploring the intimacies of marriage or the passages of sensuality throughout a woman's lifetime, raging against racism and violence or celebrating the richness of Africa and its tribal art and culture, she is herself ever the "eager traveler." Angelou's senses never take a vacation from her intellect; together they take her to a wide variety of places: her home in North Carolina, a beach in Mexico, a nightclub in New York. They explore, among other things, the complementary experiences of performing in an opera while traveling in Morocco and of standing alone on a stage and singing the spirituals she first learned as a young girl. In one piece, Angelou recalls poems learned in her youth, chants that brightened the dark skies of the Depression in the rural South. "Art encourages us," she says "to stand erect and stretch upward toward the higher ground." Angelou is always rewarded by what life gives back in her travels, and in sharing with us such perceptions chanced upon in rich solitude, she startles with her frank, fresh ability to relate in precise prose whatever she learns. Read full book review >
MY PAINTED HOUSE, MY FRIENDLY CHICKEN, AND ME by Maya Angelou
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 3, 1994

A beguiling collaboration between the renowned poet (All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, 1986, etc.) and a Namibian-born photojournalist. Thandi, an eight-year-old Ndebele girl from a South African village, is first glimpsed in European school clothes but talks mostly about her traditional culture, in which "people do not call anything beautiful. They will say that the best thing is good." She tells how their intricately patterned houses are painted and describes her mother's beadwork, focusing on the contrast between these arts and the sober modern world of town and school. Thandi's sunny, childlike voice is gracefully honed and has delightful touches of humor, especially about her "best friend," a chicken: "When I tell my friend secrets, she can talk all she wants...but no one can understand her...except another chicken, of course" (ellipses in original). In the expertly composed color photos, Thandi and the other children glow with mischief, laugh out loud, or "just sit back deep inside themselves"; the crafts are also handsomely displayed. The design here (by Alexander Isley Design) is inspired, setting off words and photos to perfection. Vibrant color blocks and pages echo hues in the photos and contrast with white pages. Spacing and different sizes of sans-serif type enhance the cadence and emphasis of the first-person narrative. A fine introduction to these young South Africans. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
ALL GOD'S CHILDREN NEED TRAVELING SHOES by Maya Angelou
NONFICTION
Released: April 8, 1986

The hauntingly evocative and poetic continuation of the autobiography that began with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970). We are now in the early 1960's with Angelouson a brief stopover in Accra to enroll her 17-year-old son in the University of Ghana. Guy, however, is nearly killed in a ear accident, and Angelou must give up plans to work for the US Information Agency in Liberia. She gets a job at the university, writes articles for a local newspaper and becomes part of the black American expatriate community. To get close to her motherland, the great mysterious continent of her ancestors, Angelou learns to speak Fanti, dresses Ghanian style and gradually makes African friends. There is Comfort, the lusty, laughing young woman who styles her hair, and who later dies of a curse put on her by a rival for a man's heart. There is Kojo, the charming "small boy" who does errands about the house she shares with two other expatriates. One day his entire family travels from a distant village laden with gifts of food—their thanks to her for teaching Kojo "Brioni (white) ways of thinking." The masterful Sheikhali wants to make Angelou his number two wife and cannot understand why her father does not come from America to negotiate the marriage. She also entertains numerous visitors from abroad, among them Malcolm X who, at book's end, has persuaded her to return home to work for the Organization of African-American Unity. Before leaving, however, she visits the port of Keta, where various women mistake her for a relative or an acquaintance. She realizes that the people bear a strong resemblance to her mother's family and—learning that the town was once a center of the slave trade—she thinks, "I had not consciously come to Ghana to find the roots of my beginnings, but I had accidentally tripped over them or fallen upon them in my everyday life. And here in my last days in Africa, descendants of a pillaged past saw their history in my face and heard their ancestors speak through my voice." In sum, the human heart of Africa reaching out to one of its displaced children, deepening that child's understanding of herself and her heritage. Read full book review >
THE HEART OF A WOMAN by Maya Angelou
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 9, 1981

Another installment in Angelou's remarkable autobiography—beginning with would-be singer Maya in 1957 California: trying commune life; moving to L.A. with teenage son Guy; playing uneasy hostess to dying Billie Holliday—a "lonely sick woman, with a waterfront mouth" who both cursed and lullabied Guy . . . and interrupted Maya's nightclub act with a mini-review ("Stop that bitch. She sounds just like my goddam mamma"). But most of this book finds Maya in N.Y., living in Brooklyn and joining the Harlem Writers Guild—a mutual-criticism group of necessary harshness: "Publishers don't care much for white writers. . . . You can imagine what they think about black ones." Little writing gets done, however, because, after one final singing fling (at the Apollo), Maya finds herself galvanized by a Martin Luther King speech: she and Godfrey Cambridge ("his white teeth were like flags of truce") organize a fundraising cabaret for King's SCLC; then, to her surprise, Maya is offered the job of Northern coordinator; and this soon leads her to South African rebel diplomat Vus Make—a sleek, charismatic hero who, on the virtual eve of Maya's wedding to a lusty bail-bondsman, sweeps her into quasi-marriage—first in NY (where Maya acts in The Blacks and leads a protest march on the UN after Lumumba's assassination) and then in Cairo, where she rebels against Vus' male-chauvinism by getting a journalism job. Finally, however, fed up with Vus' tyrannies, infidelities, and unpaid bills, Maya takes off (after braving an African-style divorce-by-debate), puts Guy in college in Ghana, and breathes a sigh of relief: "At last, I'll be able to eat the whole breast of a roast chicken by myself." Don't look for political history here: Angelou doesn't pause much for reexaminations, and some of the sociological musings are shaky (as when she explains a black teen-gang simply as a response to racism). But the mother-son relationship is touchingly explored, the fire of the times is rekindled with eloquence, and Maya herself—brandishing a pistol to defend her son or wrassling with Vus in the Waldorf Astoria lobby—remains funny, tough, and vulnerable as she keeps on surprising herself with what she can do: a great lady moving right on through a great memoir. Read full book review >
AND STILL I RISE by Maya Angelou
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 2, 1978

In her third volume of poems, Maya Angelou proves once again that audacity can pay off. Seemingly unafraid to approach anything, she includes comments on aging, the disappointments of love, anger at the abuse of black people, and the everyday aspects of womanhood. The moving spirit is summed up in the poem "Still I Rise" when she says "Does my sassiness upset you?/ Why are you beset with gloom?/ 'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells/ Pumping in my living room. . . ." The music of these lines is continued throughout the book: indeed Angelou's use of the refrain often serves to break up a poem when the tension grows overwhelming, as in "One More Round," an anti-slavery piece, where she punctuates illustrations of abuse with a chorus reminiscent of a work song: "One more round/ And let's heave it down. . . ." Angelou's most glaring weakness is a tendency towards obvious and rhetorical statement, as in "Ain't that Bad," which lists items commonly associated with blacks (Stevie Wonder, rice and beans, etc.) in a way that fails to dramatize any point. However, through her use of music and direct, uninhibited statement, she has written a distinctive and energetic volume. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 1, 1976

The prolific, resilient Maya Angelou continues her autobiography in this sunny tour of her twenties, covering her first positive contact with whites, a short-lived marriage to a Greek sailor, and the snowballing of her theatrical career. Tosh Angelos knew black jazz and showed concern for her son Clyde but that wasn't enough: they! separated after about two years—he'd lost his liberty, she'd surrendered her independence. She changed her name but not her spirit, started dancing in a strip joint ("Be real sexy. And don't leave your purse in the dressing room"), soon landed a job at the prestigious Purple Onion. Then a major choice: a Saint Subber play on Broadway (with Capote in the wings) or a Porgy and Bess tour of Europe. She chose Porgy and cavorted through the continent and North Africa in a grand company. Steeled by her mother's cautious advice but missing her young son, she took it all in and relives it here with enthusiasm, poetry and wit. She felt an emotional bond to servants in Egypt, intellectual ties to Israel; always there were strangers who surprised her with their sudden attachment: a Slavic family volunteered Robeson's "Deep River," Mr. Julian sent his heart and promised more, a ship captain warned her off champagne before a coming storm. Her long absence was not without its consequences: Clyde had his troubles at home, and Maya returned to answer for her neglect. Nevertheless her trip seems an enchantment, a sign of her sense of adventure and many, many talents. Like found money, she makes you feel richer for the discovery. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 10, 1975

This is Maya Angelou's second volume of poems and her poetry is just as much a part of her autobiography as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Gather Together in My Name. She writes deceptively simple songs of experience that are disarming because there isn't any conventional persona between her and you when she says "Come. And Be My Baby." She's a funky kind of mother with a lowdown wisdom of the heart, which may be why you open to her sentiment. Mostly these are poems about and for people, especially children. Like "John J.," whose momma didn't want him or "Little Girl Speakings" which makes something special of the contention that "Ain't nobody better's my Daddy." There's one about "The Telephone" that never rings when you need it; and a number of rhymed and repetitive lyrics that might almost be incantations to comfort the lonely. It's all so damned artless, there's just no accounting for how strong she is, except to say Maya's got the gift. Read full book review >
GATHER TOGETHER IN MY NAME by Maya Angelou
NONFICTION
Released: May 17, 1974

Continuing from the deeply affecting first volume of her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), Angelou, sixteen, has given birth to her illegitimate son Guy, WW II has just ended, there's optimism in the land and racism, blacks are telling themselves, was only a temporary aberration (didn't we, after all, work together for the defense effort?). But the mood abruptly comes to ground, Angelou's poetic prose turns tougher and the remembering evokes an immediacy of long-ago dejection. Heeding Mama's advice not to "chippy," to walk tall — Mama was the "baddest" lady ever (and surely she was) — Angelou hits the road out of San Francisco, things close to the edge, back to Stamps, Arkansas, to the security of a grandmother, only to take flight just as quickly again, a step ahead of southern retribution. And instead of the longed-for cashmere sweater-set June Allyson life, there was to be dead time spent as a "Daddy's 'ho" (she was only one of many he has working the Sacramento Valley farm towns, although Angelou wasn't to know that until later); learning how to short-order cook in joints; dreaming of her name in lights in the dance team of Poole & Rita (he resplendent in powder blue tux, she, Rita, in a sequined swimsuit); success of sorts as a madam herself of a two-lesbian house — so much happening that one is stunned at book's end to realize that Angelou is then all of 19. Whitey is prominent here only by indirection — Angelou's too involved "tending to business" to care about reminding us of things we should in any case already understand. Her own thing on her own terms — worlds removed from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man carrying his patron's letter, "keep this nigger running" — and because of it, Angelou's stature, as a writer, a woman, a black, grows, walks tall. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 21, 1971

The natural feeling that made I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings such a special reminiscence gives these verses their claim to poetry. They're mostly short and rhymed, in simple forms or freeform, not sophisticated but sensitive all the same to the aural possibilities of rhythm and diction. Of the two sections, one of lyrics on love as the black woman knows it and the other, longer pieces on angrier universal themes of blackness, the first seems the truer. Poems like "They Went Home" and "No Loser, No Weeper," slight as they are, carry the weight of experience. "Times-Square-Shoe-Shine-Composition" (in a "Dozens" cadence) and "The Calling of Names" flash among the serious but less well realized pieces of the second group — but nothing in either is a match for Miss Angelou's prose, where her real poetry flows without restraint. Read full book review >
I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS by Maya Angelou
NONFICTION
Released: Feb. 1, 1969

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood." Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynchingâ€"and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect." However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time. Read full book review >