Maya Angelou's five volumes of autobiography are a testament to the talents and resilience of this extraordinary writer. Loving the world, she also knows its cruelty. As a black woman she has known discrimination and extreme poverty, but also hope, joy, achievement and celebration.
In the fifth volume, Maya Angelou emigrates to Ghana only to discover that 'you can't go home again' but she comes to a new awareness of love and friendship, civil rights and slavery - and the myth of mother Africa.
"A brilliant writer, a fierce friend and a truly phenomenal woman." Barack Obama
"Thoroughly enjoyable... an important document drawing more much-needed attention to the hidden history of a people both African and American." Los Angeles Times Book Review
“And now, less than one hundred years after slavery was abolished, some descendants of those early slaves taken from Africa returned, weighted with a heavy hope, to a continent which they could not remember, to a home which had shamefully little memory of them.” - Maya Angelou, All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes
Maya Angelou was a wonderful woman who struggled against the odds and gave us a wealth of experience and wisdom to draw from, as well as a reminder of our history. I’m always surprised by the fact that she wasn’t even famous when she wrote her autobiographies yet now they are such important accounts, revolutionary. Her writing is beautiful, honest, poetic.
Most of this book takes place in Ghana in the early 1960s, at a time when pan-Africanism was on the rise and before the Civil Rights Act was passed. This book was very much about identity and belonging, themes very dear to the African-Americans who went to Ghana and elsewhere in Africa hoping to be welcomed as returning sons and daughters. However, it was not that easy. Angelou examines the different psyches and mentalities of these ostensibly similar groups of people. She looks at emotions such as home-sickness, guilt and anger, all keenly observed and reported.
This is such an important historical account. It was obviously a moving experience for Angelou to be in Africa, in a country that was newly free from colonialism, a country that was ruled by black Africans. Her comment about her amazement to see a black president on the money was so touching. For me it’s hard to imagine not being allowed in certain buildings, at least not through the front door, but for Angelou it must have been surreal to finally be in a country where she was free to go anywhere she wished:
“Seeing Africans enter and leave the formal building made me tremble with an awe I had never known. Their authority on the marble steps again proved that Whites had been wrong all along. Black and brown skin did not herald debasement and a divinely created inferiority. We were capable of controlling our cities, our selves and our lives with elegance and success.”
One part that really resonated with me was the part when W.E.B. DuBois died. The words that Angelou used to talk about him could very well be used now by her many admirers to talk about her own passing:
“Du Bois was ninety-six years old, and frail, but we wanted him to live forever. He had no right to desire for death. We argued that great men and women should be forced to live as long as possible. The reverence they enjoyed was a life sentence, which they could neither revoke or modify.”
In the end, Maya Angelou reconciled herself to Africa in a way I found beautifully stated in her words:
“If the heart of Africa still remained allusive, my search for it had brought me closer to understanding myself and other human beings.”
R.I.P. Maya Angelou, you’re missed already.
This book reminded me of the content of one of my undergrad Sociology classes (Sociology of Tourism). My professor, Dr. Wyllie, did a lot of work in Ghana and we learned about the quarrels over Elmina Castle and other slave-trading posts. Ghanaians want the castles fixed up and renovated, while the African-Americans want them left the way they are as a stark reminder of the awful past. The Ghanaians are not able to understand why the African-Americans get so emotional about these places, while the African-Americans can’t understand why the Ghanaians don’t show any emotion. This helped reiterate Angelou’s observations, how despite looking similar, we (Africans and African-Americans) have had different experiences and may see the world differently when it comes to some things. The good thing about Ghana is that the Government there is trying to take into account concerns from both parties.
This was the first book in this year's Postal Book Swap F rotation, all secret until we've all seen all of them. I picked this up to read the same day I spoke to a woman working at a permanent refugee camp in Malawi, and I read the first half without a break. I couldn't stop reading!
Maya Angelou is so engaging. It isn't surprising that a poet would write so lyrically, but there are moments that are so beautifully written.
I didn't know about this period of Angelou's life, about her disillusionment with Martin Luther King, Jr., or that she was internationally known even in the 1960s/.
Her honesty and exploration of identity seems to be the core of the book. Can Black Americans find roots in Africa? Can it be a returned homeland? Or does their Americanness and pain-history separate them too distinctly? Will she find acceptance and belonging?
This book feels like an ancestor itself, to books like Americanah and Homegoing.
Date read is February 17, 2017. Date included below is review posting date.
This is the fifth volume of Angelou’s autobiography and covers the time when she lived abroad, mainly in Ghana. It is set around 1963/1964 and begins when Angelou is 33. Colonialism and Empire is ending and African states are taking over their own affairs. A number of Black Americans felt the draw of Africa, Angelou was among them: “Our people had always longed for home. For centuries, we had sung about a place not built with hands, where the streets were paved with gold and were washed with honey and milk. There the saints would march around wearing white robes and jeweled crowns. There, at last, we would study war no more, and, more important, no one would wage war against us again. The old Black deacons, ushers, mothers of the church and junior choirs only partially meant heaven as that desired destination. In the yearning, heaven and Africa were inextricably combined.” As always Angelou is not afraid to address difficult issues, tensions and mistakes that she has made. There were tensions between Ghanaians and the new US community and a level of distrust and Angelou is not afraid to explore this. The group from the US called themselves the “Revolutionist Returnees”. The Ghanaian people come across as warm and welcoming to what must have seemed quite a puzzling group. Angelou describes a protest organized in front of the American embassy to coincide with Martin Luther King’s march on Washington. The protest gained extra meaning as W.E.B. DuBois, who was living in Ghana, had died the night before. Angelou also describes her struggles with coming to terms with the fact that her ancestors had been sold into slavery with the help of some of the ancestors of modern day Africans. One of the most fascinating parts of the book is the visit of Malcolm X to Ghana. He spends a good deal of time with Angelou and her friends and the reader gets a sense of his charisma and persuasive powers. It was just after he had broken with the Nation of Islam and there was a telling description of a chance meeting with Muhammed Ali at an airport in Ghana. There is as always plenty of humour and Angelou is very good at mixing humour with sad and difficult issues. A case in point is Angelou’s reaction when she discovers her son (who is about 18) is dating someone as old as she is. The community of US citizens in Ghana moves on. Angelou goes briefly to Europe to act in a production of Jean Genet’s The Blacks (with James Earl Jones and Lou Gossett Jr.). Before she leaves Ghana to go and work for Malcolm X Angelou visits a part of the country she hasn’t visited before. It is a very moving part of the book as Angelou thinks she has found the area of Ghana her ancestors originated from; an argument for collective memories perhaps, but it is a fatting ending to a powerful book.
Another great book by Maya Angelou. If you haven’t recognized it by now I’m giving myself the gift of Maya writing to myself for a Christmas present.
Well this is the period of the 60s when she’s visiting Africa and is very interesting. Because many of the things that happen during that time I was alive for and read in the newspapers. Particularly, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
Throughout the book she struggles against many odds. Such as her constant lack of money, the caring of her child education, racism and sexism. In the end, she is a richer person because of experiences she had in Ghana and the places she visits throughout the entire story.
The book takes place in Ghana in the early 1960s when the African community was having their own civil rights experience and were growing towards self government. Maya Angelo shows the struggles of the people. And she shows the difficulties both in her always amazing descriptions as well as tight and precise dialogue.
Without a doubt, I’ve have nothing but admiration and respect for this brilliant woman.
I recommend this book to her and to anyone else. When it has Maya Angelou as an author you can be sure 100% the book is going to be a winner.
And now we come to Maya Angelou's fifth autobiography; All God's Children Need Travelling Shoes. This is a 240 pages book which has 42 chapters but most of them are super tiny which is perfect if you get easily distracted. Naturally I recommend reading the entire series, but somehow this volume has an independent soul. Maya had finally embraced her Africanism by spending some quality time in Ghana. Fate or chance brought her back to the black continent but was she complacent enough?
There is a flood of emotions and touching moments portrayed in this book, and if none of that managed to get under your skin then I don't know what on earth would. If you've ever felt insecure at some point of your life, found yourself in a constant battle between comforting faith and doubtful denial, fought for a cause with the realization that you have little chance to win, had to prove yourself to people you don't owe them shit, then Maya's works were made for you.
Two great people gather together in Ghana: Malcolm X and Maya Angelou.
Thank goodness for the "Books-a-Million" African-American lit shelf, where they stock books front cover forward. There I was, waiting at their cafe for some chai, and this book was right there smiling at me. As soon as I flipped through the pages and saw Maya Angelou's reference to Liberia (my birth land where I spent most of my adolescence), I knew I had to buy and read.
During the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's, a group of black Americans weary of the racial tensions, left America headed for West Africa. They called themselves the "Revolutionist Returnees." I was surprised to learn that Maya Angelou was a part of this group and what was so refreshing about this memoir was her willingness to relay her flaws in this book. Compared to other memoirs she has written, you feel as if you are reading about the behind-the-scenes, non-celebrity author Maya Angelou here (although it helps to know that she was in her early to mid-thirties in this book).
If you've read her book, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," you get a sense for why she was angry (almost militant), ill-tempered (rude in some cases), a writer who had not come to terms with her writing, an actress, and a "vagabond" who had traveled from state to state, country to country, trying to find herself. I was moved by another memoir she wrote, "Letter to my Daughter," but this book was a transformative read that reached for my attention.
The book starts in 1962, when Angelou is on her way to Liberia with her 19-year old son. While in Ghana visiting friends, her son is a victim of a nasty car accident, which forces her to cancel her Liberian trip and Liberian job to stay in Ghana.
This book opens with her going into a deep depression because of this.
In Ghana, she meets a group of black American expatriates and a community of foreigners (thanks to President Nkrumah). The story really centers around her (and those around her) finding her way into the African community. She mentions placing the African and black American cultures side by side for examination, at one point even learning to still her anger by viewing the people around her: "Black American insouciance was the one missing element in West Africa. Courtesy and form, traditional dignity, respectful dismissal and history were the apparent ropes holding their society close and nearly impenetrable."
As if all this self revelation wasn't astounding enough, I was surprised when Malcolm X was introduced to the story and pleasantly surprised to learn that W.E.B. Du Bois was a member of the expats living in Ghana (in fact he died in Ghana just before MLK's march to Washington). The changed Malcolm X had just returned from Mecca, where he had ejected himself from the following of Elijah Muhammed and now saw life differently. He even scolded Maya Angelou as she drove him to the airport, "don't be in such a hurry to condemn a person because he doesn't do what you do, or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn't know what you know today." There were so many lessons like this one throughout the book--she even mentions the turmoils between Jews and Germans when she visits Germany.
I did have one minor issue with a characterization of Liberians--one minor detail with the Americo-Liberian history cited. Yet what this memoir did well was that it compared social issues across cultures, it was encouraging even during the parts where it was disheartening, it spoke of transformation and social change, and it was scented with a lot of rich West African culture. The ending was superb.
I read this book in Ghana-- the site of the majority of the story. Maya Angelou is amazing. I could smell, feel, and visualize everything she spoke about. It didn't hurt that I was on the Legon University campus when I began this journey. Angelou accurately portrays the African-American experience when we make that journey of discovery to Mama Africa. She vividly describes that desire to fall down and kiss the earth-- the earth that is OURS-- that our ancestors and cells within our bone's marrow yearns for. Along the way, she meets figures like Malcolm X and Kwame Nkrumah. She also has drama with her son. Most importantly though, she discovers herself and realizes her own journey. This book is powerful, and people are just "straight up tripping" if they don't give it 5 stars. Read it, imagining that you are on her journey. If you haven't been to Africa yet, or lived through the fervent 1960's -- allow her to take you there. I promise you won't be disappointed.
Not much happens in this, Maya lives in Ghana and has a job, she meets people and feels discontent. I think maybe it’s about living somewhere where you don’t feel you belong, she does write beautifully but this seemed like it could have been a chapter in an autobiography rather than needing its own book.
The fifth of Maya Angelou's biographies and - excluding I Know Why... - probably my favourite. In this book her writing takes on a maturity, wit, perceptiveness and boldness which just floored me. The exploration of belonging and home were so intimate and at times chilling, the scenes of 60s Ghana were so rich and the energy of the Nkrumah years so tangible, and the depictions of motherhood were so tender. An important reminder that when life is getting you down, give yourself the gift of Maya Angelou's writing.
This is book 5 in Maya Angelou's autobiography series. I've read books 1-3 when I was younger. I'll have to dig thru my Mom's old books and read book 4 before the year ends! Maya Angelou can do no wrong - seriously! This book takes place in Ghana (mostly Accra) in the 1960's, shortly after Ghana's independence in 1957. Maya Angelou joins a community of 'Revolutionist Returnees' - African Americans/Negro Americans on their quest to explore, understand and aid the Motherland in any way they can. While in Ghana, Angelou finds a job as an administrator at the University of Ghana - Legon and at a local newspaper as a journalist.
Angelou takes us through the different conversations and interactions she has with the kind-hearted Ghanaians she experienced during her stay. I loved how most Ghanaians made her feel at home. Ghanaians in general are very hospitable, and this book definitely highlights this (my country did me proud in this book!). I was glad that Maya Angelou was living with a community of African Americans, but interacted mostly with Africans throughout her stay in Ghana - there was a good balance. An interesting bit in the book was when Angelou and the other African Americans protested in front of the American Embassy in Accra, on the same day of the March on Washington, lead by Martin LutherKing Jr. The purpose of the March and the protest in Accra was to encourage equal rights of people of all colors & desegregation in the United States. Even though W.E.B DuBois was also in Ghana at the time (he gained citizenship and lived in Ghana during the latter part of his life), he was unable to protest with them, and even dies shortly after the March on Washington from old age. My favorite part of the book is when Malcolm X arrives in Ghana and Angelou along with the other 'Revolutionist Returnees' do their best to make him feel at home, arrange various talks for him and even get him to meet president Kwame Nkrumah. It was great to read about these iconic leaders actually having normal lives in this book!
Angelou struggles a lot in this book with her identity and facing the facts of the past. It constantly angered her to recollect how Africans sold other Africans into slavery. She couldn't even visit the Elmina Castle - which housed several slaves at the Cape Coast of Ghana, because the historical weight behind this historical venue nauseated her. I appreciated her quest to experience and understand what the 'black experience' was like in Africa - Ghana, which is a place where almost everyone is black. This memoir ends on a satisfying note - for me. I recommend this to anyone who appreciates Black history and those who wish to travel to the continent of Africa on the quest for his/her identity.
COMPREHENSIVE REVIEW WILL BE POSTED ON THE BLOG SOON!
“He said, ‘This is not their place. In time they will pass. Ghana was here when they came. When they go, Ghana will be here. They are like mice on an elephant’s back. They will pass.’”
The reflections Maya suggests and requires are masterfully done, especially the ones on identity and belonging. I could not hold my tears after reading the last pages of this book, it is so heartbreaking and hopeful and beautiful and enraging. This book is an African-American ode to Ghana and to Africa, and I am forever thankful to have read it through Maya’s eyes.
i highly recommend this book for anyone interested in pan africanism. although it’s not explicitly about that, maya’s first hand account of her experiences as a black american on the continent speak to concerns many in the diaspora have around “going back to africa”. i loved this book so much! i recently spent time in ghana and almost all the questions/concerns she raises came up for me during my visit. really grateful she shared this work with us
I've got nothing but love, respect and admiration for this woman. Brilliant writer, exceptional human being and humorous lady. What a combination of brilliance. I recommend all of her books to anyone and everyone. There's something in there for all of us. ❤️
And the story goes on. This one was a wonderful eye-opener; so much to learn about the differences between "real" African and American-African character. Can't wait to read the next one, though I suppose Maya is going back to USA. This book I'm sure I'll read again!
This book captured me from the beginning. Ms Angelou has a wonderful way with words, using words i had never known before, but not in a way that would deter or bother me. This book details a very particular period in her life when she briefly lived in Ghana. She moved there with her son, where he attended university and she carved out a name for herself where she could. One of the things i appreciated about her writing is the honesty in her thinking and behaviors, admitting when she had made a mistake or assumed something too hastily. I identified with her on that. I also appreciated her frankness on the difficulty in finding "home" in Africa. She and other Black American expats found a difficult timw filling at home in the motherland, by the citizens and unfamiliar processes and customs, yet never truly admitted it out loud amongst them. I imagine people still have a difficult time with this, i wonder if others have written about it. Useful thinking points for someonr keen on seeking home elsewhere. The time with Malcolm was also intriguing. Ms Angelou was a fascinating lady, a bit frustrating at times, but fascinating. Recommend to all.
Many thought provoking, even moving experiences in the author's venture to rediscover her roots in Ghana. My rating is lowered by an occasional lack of clarity about the various people that populate the book, which required this reader to backtrack a chapter to locate their place in the narrative. Especially interesting to read an insider colleague's viewpoint of experiences alongside Malcolm X.
I don't have a ton to say about this one except that it's a really interesting look at a place and time, and at the idea of...hmm, ideas of home, maybe, and of what home means and what fitting in means and so on.
Mostly, though, I just want to pull out a few quotations:
We had come home, and if home was not what we had expected, never mind, our need for belonging allowed us to ignore the obvious and to create real places or even illusory places, befitting our imagination. (19)
I doubted if I, or any Black from the diaspora, could really return to Africa. We wore skeletons of old despair like necklaces, heralding our arrival, and we were branded with cynicism. In America we danced, laughed, procreated; we became lawyers, judges, legislators, teachers, doctors, and preachers, but as always, under our glorious costumes we carried the badge of a barbarous history sewn to our dark skins. (76)
Homesickness was never mentioned in our [expat] crowd. Who would dare admit a longing for a White nation so full of hate that it drove its citizens of color to madness, to death or to exile? How to confess even to one's ownself, that our eyes, historically customed to granite buildings, wide paved avenues, chromed cars, and brown, black, beige, pink and white-skinned people, often ached for those familiar sights? (120)
Many of us had only begun to realize in Africa that the Stars and Stripes was our flag and our only flag, and that knowledge was almost too painful to bear. We could physically return to Africa, find jobs, learn languages, even marry and remain on African soil all our lives, but we were born in the United States and it was the United States which had rejected, enslaved, exploited, then denied us. ... I shuddered to think that while we wanted that flag dragged into the mud and sullied beyond repair, we also wanted it pristine, its white stripes, summer cloud white. Watching it wave in the breeze of a distance made us nearly choke with emotion. It lifted us up with its promise and broke our hearts with its denial. (127)
While I have read some of her poetry (and really enjoyed it - honestly who is not moved from Still I Rise?) But this is the first of her biographies I have read.
I am surprised by her arrogance. She goes to Ghana, she lives there, she is angry that she is not getting paid multiple times more then Ghanaian people, angry that she is not given a car, and a home just for being American. She admits multiple times that she has no college degree (a requirement for jobs she feels she wants), she doggedly refuses to learn to type, she has no qualifications, but still she feels she deserves to profit and live fat off the country, while the people of Ghana do not.
She meets a powerful man - a Chieftain - who invites her into his home and she berates his child because she does not address her properly, with enough respect.
She goes to Germany, and drags a Jewish man into a dangerous and unkind situation, which she later feels bad about, but is another example of her selfishness and her ability to think of no ones safety or comfort but her own.
When she leaves she says "It seemed that I had gotten all Africa had to give me" but not once does she justify herself being there. Not once does she tell us what she has brought back to Africa.
Her writing is beautiful, and this is a very quick, one day, read. I can see why people especially Americans like the book. I just found many talking points hard to take. I do think that there is important information in the book. The way that Blacks were (and are) treated in the US, and how you can go searching for a home, somewhere to feel safe and comfortable, and how hard that can be. In comparison I enjoyed Langston Hughes' I Wonder as I Wander much more staisfying as a travel book of the time, even if it is a bit earlier.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
“Every moment in Ghana called attention to itself and each social affair was self conscious. When I went dancing, between the beats and during the steps, I thought, ‘Here I am, Maya Angelou, dancing in Africa. I know I’m having a good time.’ Shopping in the crowded streets I thought, ‘This is me at last, really me, buying peppers in Makola market aren’t I lucky?’” I read this book while I too, am in Accra, and although for many reasons my experience is different, I related to her writing, the descriptions of food, cloth and smell, the feelings that she so beautifully put into words. I finished it in the courtyard of my own home in Ghana, as she spoke about what she missed about home, her family, her friends and realized I, as well, miss home
Engaging autobiographical story of her time living in Ghana in the 1960's. In her lovely style, she compares her experience of black Americans with the African experience and how they differ but have similarities. She tells of the fascinating people she meets there, including a visit by Malcolm X and meeting the President of Liberia. Her piercing insights into herself are always enlightening and every one of her autobiographies have been awesome.
I give this five stars because Maya is such an incredible story teller. She wisks you along like a boat on a fast-moving current. She expresses both loathing and yearning for America, and I am torn between understanding and disappointment at her negativity towards the nation that fought the civil war and still strives to overcome 400 years of slavery.
What a wonderful book! I love Angelou's autobiographies. They are so human, they make you laugh but then on the next page you are sobbing. A fantastic storyteller. Anyone who is or has lived in another country will love this book.
It's honest, it's light-hearted, it's contemplative and still it manages to reflect on one person's struggle with history and it's cruelties. The first one I've read in Angelou's autobiographical sequence, but definitely not the last!
This is a book of exquisite story paired with exquisite writing. In this volume of Maya Angelou's memoir series, she goes to Africa in her search for home, discovering her roots and understanding her own differences. Her son grows up and prepares to lead an independent life.
This is the fifth of seven memoirs by the great poet, performer and activist, Maya Angelou. She wrote with such fierceness and emotion that I couldn't put this book down. In the 1960s, Maya and her son Guy spent some time in Ghana after she divorced her husband. Her journey to Ghana gave her a new perspective on personal freedom, race relations, and slavery. She stayed close to friends that she knew from home and abroad, but she also befriended quite a few people from many different places as she lived life with her singular joy and thoughtfulness.
Near the end of her stay, she traveled to Germany and joined her old acting troupe for a few performances. It was in Germany that she and Roscoe Lee Browne discussed the legacy of racism carried from one generation to the next. She wrote that "Prejudice is a burden which confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible."
This book was thought-provoking and historic. I plan to read her last two remaining memoirs in the next few weeks.