17. ‘A Song Flung Up To Heaven’ by Maya Angelou

It’s taken just about a year for me to work my way through Maya Angelou’s epic autobiography (‘epic’ being an overused word that is definitely not an exaggeration in this case). It started with I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and finishes with this instalment, A Song Flung Up To Heaven.

A Song covers the period of her life between 1965 and 1968, when Angelou returned to America after living for several years in Ghana.

maya angelou a song flung up to heaven


Angelou leaves her son in Ghana to live his own life, and she returns to America where she is quickly plunged into a serious depression. It begins with her complicated feelings about leaving her son – a combination of guilt and sadness at the realisation that he no longer needs her – and progresses following the assassination of Malcolm X.

The civil rights movement features much more heavily in this volume. Angelou had previously met and befriended Malcolm X during her time in Ghana, and in A Song we see how his death affected her and the black community in America. Eventually Angelou picks herself up and goes to Hawaii with her brother, Bailey, and afterwards – feeling suitably revived – she moves to LA and then to New York.

Unfortunately, the misfortunes keep coming for Angelou. Her son breaks his neck again (but once again makes a full recovery), and her attempt to rejoin the SCLC to assist Martin Luther King’s efforts are cut short when King is assassinated on her birthday. Ultimately, Angelou proves as unstoppable as ever, coming through these personal and political tragedies and writing about them with the dignity and insight that I have come to expect from her.

I feel quite sad to have come to the end of Angelou’s autobiographies, but I’m also delighted that these books exist. We can thank Richard Loomis who, after trying for weeks to convince Angelou to write her story, finally made it happen by telling her that biography can’t be written as literature. Angelou saw that as a challenge and rose to it. These books chronicle one woman’s confusion and struggle and passion and politics. If you get the chance to sit down with this enormous tome and read it cover to cover, take it. It’s wholly worth it.

“We had come so far from where we started, and weren’t really approaching where we had to be, but we were on the road to becoming better.”

Want to read this? You can buy the book here.

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