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Thursday, 6 June, 2002, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Maya Angelou's long journey
Maya Angelou: Headlined this year's Hay Festival

The latest - and last - volume of Maya Angelou's moving autobiography tells of her spiritual journey towards her vocation of writing - and her growing fame during the turbulent years of struggle for civil rights in l960s America.

As a black woman born into poverty in the American South, Angelou had to overcome rape, prejudice and fear to find her voice.

In the first volume of her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she spoke of her struggle for identity and her determination to shape her own destiny.

Now in the final years before she published that book which made her name, we see the shape of her final journey.

Like everything in Angelou's life, it was far from straightforward - involving her breaking the bonds of an intense relationship with an African prince, finding peace with her son, and the courage to begin writing and give up her career as a singer.

This volume begins with her return from Africa, where she has left her teenage son to find his own life - and the assassination of Malcolm X, whom she was planning to see on her return.

She is swept into the maelstrom of the civil rights movement, working for Martin Luther King as begins his campaign to link civil rights and poverty - until he too is assassinated

But she also finds the need to retreat, first to Hawaii and then to Los Angeles, where she can restore her links with her own family.

And she finds strength too in her literary friends in New York, especially the great writer James Baldwin, who introduces her to the circle of friends who eventually lead to her literary breakthrough.

One of the strengths of the book is its honesty -no one was more surprised than the author when she was offered first a major radio series, and then a chance to write her autobiography.

It is the inner strength that we sense will carry her through to the public phases of her career, and her ultimate triumph as the poet at President Clinton's inauguration ceremony.

Maya Angelou has been an actress, singer, poet, film-maker, and civil rights activist - but it is her strength of character that shines through in this final volume of her memoirs.

A Song Flung Up to Heaven, by Maya Angelou, is published by Virago at 12.99.

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05 Jun 02 | Wales
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