THE HEART OF A WOMAN
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.