Maya Angelou was a prominent figure in American literature, renowned for her poetry, memoirs, and essays. She was a prolific writer who shared her powerful voice with the world, inspiring generations of readers with her honest and poignant works. Her writing explored themes of identity, racism, family, and self-discovery.
In this blog post, we will explore some famous Maya Angelou books in order, giving readers a glimpse into the incredible literary legacy that she left behind. From her early works to her later memoirs, each book offers a unique perspective on the human experience and a profound insight into Maya Angelou’s life and writing.
[Related: Best Maya Angelou Quotes]
Whether you are a long-time fan or a newcomer to her work, this guide will help you navigate her extensive body of work and appreciate the impact that Maya Angelou had on American literature.
1- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)
Maya Angelou’s memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is a moving and poignant account of her childhood experiences growing up in the American South during the 1930s and 1940s. Maya and her brother Bailey are sent to live with their grandmother in a small town where they face abandonment and prejudice.
Maya’s return to her mother in St. Louis is marked by a traumatic event that affects her for the rest of her life. The memoir also depicts Maya’s journey towards self-love and freedom through the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and her love for literature. The book is a powerful and timeless portrayal of the struggles of a young black girl in a racially divided society.
2- Gather Together in My Name (1974)
In “Gather Together in My Name,” Maya Angelou continues her autobiographical journey that she began in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” The book picks up after the end of World War II, where a sense of optimism pervades the air. Still in her teens and having given birth to a son, Maya faces a challenging few years as she struggles to find her place in the world.
She moves from one job to another and one relationship to another, trying to make ends meet. Despite her efforts to return to her hometown in Stamps, Arkansas, she realizes that she no longer fits into that world. Eventually, Maya’s life takes a dramatic turn as she confronts new challenges and temptations. “Gather Together in My Name” is a powerful and honest portrayal of a young woman’s struggle to find her way in the world.
Maya Angelou’s “Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas” is the third volume of her autobiography, which began with “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” In this book, Maya enters the adult world and struggles to make a living for herself and her son through various odd jobs. After a failed marriage to a white man, Maya lands a job singing in a popular nightclub in San Francisco.
Her talent soon takes her to New York where she joins the cast of Porgy and Bess and embarks on a tour of Italy, France, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Egypt. Despite the excitement and joy of performing for enthusiastic audiences, Maya feels guilty for leaving her son behind. Her son’s return to her life teaches her about the healing power of love and devotion. “Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas” is a celebration of the human spirit and a powerful testament to Maya’s resilience and determination to succeed.
4- The Heart of a Woman (1981)
Maya Angelou’s “The Heart of a Woman” follows her journey as she leaves California with her son, Guy, and moves to New York. In New York, Maya becomes immersed in the world of black artists and writers, reading her work at the Harlem Writers Guild and fighting for the rights of black Americans.
Meanwhile, Maya’s personal life takes an unexpected turn as she falls in love with a South African freedom fighter and leaves the bail bondsman she had intended to marry. Maya travels with her new partner to London and Cairo, where she discovers new opportunities and experiences. “The Heart of a Woman” is a powerful exploration of Maya’s personal and professional growth, as well as her continued commitment to fighting for social justice and equality.
5- All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986)
“All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes” by Maya Angelou is a poetic and insightful exploration of what it means to be an African American on the mother continent. In 1962, Maya moved to Ghana, joining a community of “Revolutionist Returnees” who were inspired by the promise of pan-Africanism.
This book builds on the personal narrative of Maya’s previous works, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and “Gather Together in My Name,” and confirms her stature as one of the most gifted autobiographers of our time.
Maya reflects on the complexities of American-ness and race in Ghana, where color no longer matters, but American-ness keeps asserting itself in puzzling and heartbreaking ways. “All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes” is a poignant reflection on identity, belonging, and the search for meaning and purpose in life.
6- I Shall Not Be Moved (1990)
I Shall Not Be Moved: Poems is Maya Angelou’s collection of poetry that expresses the triumphs and struggles of black identity, as well as the universal human desire for freedom. The poems are full of intense passion and deep emotion, reflecting Angelou’s gift for capturing the complexities of the human experience.
With her characteristic bittersweet tone and courageous spirit, Angelou’s poetry is a testament to the resilience and beauty of the human soul. This collection is a shining example of her powerful voice and enduring legacy as one of the most celebrated writers of our time.
7- Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993)
Maya Angelou’s book, “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now,” is a spiritual classic that shares the wisdom of her remarkable life. In this book, Maya speaks from the heart, providing down-to-earth and inspiring advice about being a woman, living well, and the power of spirituality. Her passion, lively spirit, and lyrical style shine through as she offers gems of truth on every page. This book is a treasure that will move and shape readers’ lives.
8- Even the Stars Look Lonesome (1997)
In Even the Stars Look Lonesome, Maya Angelou shares personal experiences and insights that have touched her heart, exploring both the big and small aspects of life. As a continuation of her bestseller, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now, Angelou reflects on the human condition and society, discussing what it means to be human and American, what makes us weep, and what makes us stumble and rise again. Through a series of profound essays, Angelou serves as a guide on a powerful spiritual journey that offers wisdom and inspiration to readers.
9- A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002)
A Song Flung Up to Heaven is the sixth and final volume of Maya Angelou’s autobiography. The book begins with her return to the US after living in Africa to work with Malcolm X. After reuniting with her family in California, she learns about Malcolm X’s assassination and tries to rebuild her life by working in local theaters and conducting a door-to-door survey in Watts.
She then meets Martin Luther King Jr. and becomes his coordinator in the North, supporting King’s Poor People’s March. However, tragedy strikes again when King is assassinated, causing Angelou to withdraw from the world.
James Baldwin eventually convinces her to come out of isolation and attend a dinner party, where the idea for her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is born. The book ends with Angelou beginning to write the first sentences of Caged Bird.
10- Mom & Me & Mom (2013)
“Mom & Me & Mom” is Maya Angelou’s personal account of her relationship with her mother, Vivian Baxter. Angelou shares the triumphs and struggles of being Vivian’s daughter, who had an indomitable spirit and a larger-than-life presence. Vivian sent Maya and her older brother to live with their grandmother in Arkansas when her marriage began to crumble, causing feelings of abandonment in Maya that lasted for years.
However, their reunion a decade later started a story that has never before been told. In this book, Angelou dramatizes her journey to reconcile with her mother and explores the healing and love that evolved between them, which fostered her rise from immeasurable depths to impossible heights.