65 pages 2 hours read

Maya Angelou

The Heart of a Woman

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 1981

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IntroductionChapter Summaries & Analyses

Introduction Summary

Maya Angelou opens The Heart of a Woman with a quotation from the spiritual “the ole ark’s a moverin’ along” (3), which, she writes, would have made a good anthem for civil rights in the United States in 1957, though she distinguishes between movement and progress. Angelou characterizes the movement for equal rights as a constant push and pull between progress toward equality and persistent prejudice.

Angelou zooms in from this broader, national context to her personal situation. Freshly returned from a European tour as premier dancer in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and living in a house boat commune in San Francisco with her son, Angelou enjoys a welcome respite from racial tensions. She dismisses her mother’s concerns about their prospects in this setting, noting her and her mother’s similarities. Seeking structure for her son and more privacy and comfort for herself, Angelou resumes professional singing and moves into an apartment. She relies on white friends to deceive her prospective landlord into renting to her, and the landlord reacts poorly when he sees that his new tenants are Black.

When Angelou’s voice coach, Wilkie, offers to introduce her to legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday, she feels torn between her admiration for Holiday as an artist and her anxiety about the singer’s reputation for heavy drug use and erratic behavior.