A Song Flung Up to Heaven
is a 2002 autobiography by African-American author Maya Angelou. Spanning just three years between 1965 and 1968, it continues where her previous autobiography, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes
, left off. Angelou begins with her trip to the United States from her previous home in Accra, Ghana, and ends with the tragic assassinations of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Angelou details how she reacted to these important life events, showing how they changed her perspective on America, her conceptions of citizenship, freedom, activism, and creativity, and her individual identity. The autobiography ends in 1968, the same year Angelou began her career as a writer with her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
.A Song Flung Up to Heaven
begins in 1965. Angelou’s nineteen-year-old son, Guy, now an independent man, has gone off to college in Ghana. At the same time, Angelou is grappling with an emotionally abusive relationship with a well-known West African man. She describes this partner as not fully a lover, since he is more interested in dominating her than loving her. At the request of Malcolm X, whom she had befriended during one of his visits to Ghana, Angelou returned to the United States to work with him to found the Organization of African Unity.
Angelou puts off meeting with Malcolm X to first see her brother and mother in San Francisco. Ironically
, Malcolm X is assassinated just two days into her visit. Grieving at the loss of one of her most inspirational heroes, Angelou moves to Hawaii. She lives with her brother, resuming her career as a singer and songwriter. After seeing the preeminent singer Della Reese live, Angelou concludes that she is not cut out to be a famous singer. Deciding to start writing again, she moves to Los Angeles. She chooses Los Angeles because it has a different culture than her former creative environment of New York City. To make ends meet, Angelou does market research in the Watts neighborhood. This job brings her into contact with the famous 1965 Watts Riots; she watches them evolve against her fear that as a black woman, she will be grouped in and arrested with the protestors.
Not long after, Angelou’s partner from Ghana, to whom she does not refer by name (using instead “the African”), comes to Los Angeles hoping to bring her back to Africa. Angelou asks her brother and mother to help protect her. They confuse the African, sending him to Mexico, then convincing him to go back to Ghana. When Guy visits his great-grandmother in San Francisco, he experiences the second severe car accident of his life. Though he is disabled, he remains in good spirits. Angelou’s grandmother takes care of him.
Feeling that a return to New York will be good for her writing career, Angelou moves back. She reconnects with many of her old friends. These figures include Ossie Davis, Beah Richards, Frank Silvera, and Ruby Dee. Around this time, her friend Martin Luther King, Jr. asks her to travel the United States to connect people to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Again, Angelou agrees on the condition that she postpones several weeks. King is assassinated the day she turns forty. Angelou falls into despair and isolation for months. Her episode ends when she is invited to a dinner party where her friends Jules Feiffer and James Baldwin are present. Jules’s wife, Judy, inspired by her stories, connects her to an editor named Robert Loomis. Loomis convinces Angelou to write her first autobiography. What she creates is published as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
. The book ends poetically and in reference to this first book, as Angelou writes its first words, “What are you looking at me for. I didn’t come to stay.”