Updated on September 25, 2015
45. ‘Gather Together in My Name’ by Maya Angelou
I once watched a video in which Maya Angelou explained the title of the second volume of her autobiography: Gather Together in My Name. It does have Biblical origins, but she also said that many adults tend to lie to their children about their pasts, to cover up their mistakes. Angelou said that she wanted to acknowledge her mistakes and allow the younger generation to make their own, telling them to gather together in her name when their own elders failed to admit to their flaws.
It’s a strong message for another strong book, as Angelou’s powerhouse of an autobiography continues on from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and never lets up the pace.
I thought that a lot happened in the previous instalment, leading up to birth of Angelou’s son, but this relatively shorter volume packs in some incredible stories.
In Gather Together in My Name we learn about Angelou’s first real love affairs and her attempts to become independent (with her infant son) by taking various jobs, including chef and dancer. Probably her most interesting job is that of whorehouse madam, which she walks into merely by bluffing and acting the part. At this age, Angelou is a tough young woman who isn’t afraid to just try it with people, and that often gets her what she wants, at least in the short term.
But if the title is all about her mistakes, she certainly makes plenty during this part of her life. Her mothering often leaves plenty to be desired – as might be expected for a single mother who has no choice but to work long, long hours – but when her baby goes missing it really drives home the fact that, for all her bluster and bravado, she is still just a child herself.
Her doomed love affair with a married man is another of her early catastrophes: we really get to see her naivety and her desperation to believe the best of people, and how this leads her down a tragic path. Angelou certainly doesn’t shy away from doing what she sets out to do in this book, namely admitting her mistakes and owning them.
Angelou’s really is a life less ordinary, but it doesn’t feel unbelievably extraordinary. She is subject to her own whims, the decisions of other people and the larger socio-political forces around her, as are we all. I think Angelou’s story is a wonderful example of how planning your life is an impossible task, and that such an unplanned existence can lead to extraordinary things.
Check out my review of the next volume in this autobiography, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas.
If you liked my review, why not read the book and let me know what you think?