Gather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou

Virago, 2010, 221 p. First published in1974.

This is the second volume of Angelou’s autobiography, the first of which I reviewed here.

In it she takes up her life from the time she gave birth to her son. Things were booming due to the war and jobs were reasonably available. After the war times became harder and blacks were expected to go back to previous lives. She flits from one job to another through the book always having to find provision for her son to be looked after.  She worked variously as a tram conductor, a tap dancer, a cook, a brothel keeper, a catering manager and briefly as a prostitute herself when under the influence of one of the men whom she misreads. In this regard Angelou seems to have been spectacularly naïve. Where men are concerned here, blind spots keep recurring. Her brother Bailey and an old schoolfriend called L C at different times help to disabuse her of her lack of insight. In amongst all this she attempted to join the army but was eventually turned down since the dance school she had attended was apparently a Communist front organisation, a fact of which she was blissfully unaware and which on the evidence given here was not at all obvious. A boxing match in which a young man she knew was participating also opens her eyes to the crueller capacities of men in general.

A particularly sad incident during this time concerned Bailey’s much loved wife Eunice who unfortunately died far too young. It turned him into a harder, less open person.

In the later stages of the book, as a warning, a man called Troubadour shows her the depths to which heroin dependency can take addict.

As in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou’s continuing memoir illustrates slices of life which have not often been reflected in literature.

Sensitivity note: the book employs the terms “nigger men” and “Jew boys.” (Both spoken by a black man.) Such were the times.

Pedant’s corner:-  Polonius’ (Polonius’s,) Williams’ (Williams’s,) “Stamps’ General Merchandise” (Stamps’s,) “slight of hand” (sleight,) “a dry cleaners” (dry cleaner’s,) “Black Shorts’ feet” (Shorts’s.)

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