In The Heart of a Woman Maya Angelou leaves California with her son, Guy, to go to New York. There she enters the society and world of black artists and writers. Not since her childhood has she lived in an almost black environment, and she is surprised at the obsession her new friends have with the white world around them. She stays for a while with John and Grace Killens and begins to read her writing at the Harlem Writers Guild. She continues to sing, most notably at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, but more and more she begins to take part in the struggle of black Americans for their rightful place in the world. She helps organize a benefit cabaret for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and then is appointed Martin Luther Kings Northern Coordinator.
Shortly after that, through her friend Abbey Lincoln, she takes one of the lead parts in Genet's The Blacks (it was a remarkable cast, including Godfrey Cambridge, Roscoe Lee Brown, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, Raymond St. Jacques, and Lou Gossett), and even writes music for the production.
In the meantime her personal life has taken a tempestuous turn. She has left the New York bail bondsman she was intending to marry and has fallen in love with a South African freedom fighter named Vusumzi Make, who sweeps her off her feet and eventually takes her to London and then to Cairo, where, as her marriage begins to break up, she becomes the first female editor of the English-language magazine.
The Heart of a Woman is filled with unforgettable vignettes of famous people, from Billie Holiday to Malcolm X, but perhaps most important is the story of Maya Angelou's relationship with her son. Because this book chronicles, finally, the joys and the burdens of a black mother in America and how the son she had cherished so intensely and worked for so devotedly finally grows to be a man.
Oprah Book Club® Selection, May 1997:
Maya Angelou has had more lives than the proverbial cat, and in The Heart of a Woman
she continues the account of her remarkable life begun in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
. In the first book of her bestselling autobiographical series, she describes her traumatic childhood in the small, segregated town of Stamps, Arkansas, during the 1930s. Gather Together in My Name
picks up the story in the postwar years, when Maya, a single teenager with an infant son becomes, in short order, a cook, a madam, a dancer, and a prostitute. Next comes Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas,
an account of her twenties and her unsuccessful first marriage to a white man. The Heart of a Woman,
the fourth in the series, takes us through one of the most exciting and formative periods of Angelou's amazing life: her beginnings as a writer and an activist in New York.
Angelou has a happy knack of attracting the best and the brightest into her orbit, and The Heart of a Woman offers a veritable cornucopia of black luminaries in its pages. Singer Billie Holiday, writers John Ellins and Paule Marshall, jazz musicians Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, and actors Godfrey Cambridge and James Earl Jones--Maya meets and learns from them all. Political activism soon follows as Ms. Angelou first organizes a theatrical benefit for the Reverend Martin Luther King and then becomes the director of the New York Southern Christian Leadership Conference office. Her involvement in the civil rights movement eventually brings her into contact with African freedom fighters Oliver Tambo and the charming Vusumzi Make, whom she marries and follows to Africa.
The Heart of a Woman is as honest, painful, funny, outraged, and outrageous as Angelou herself. From her debut at the Apollo Theatre to her meeting with Malcolm X, Maya Angelou gives us something to cheer about and plenty to ponder as well.