April 28, 1986 12:00 PM

by Maya Angelou

As a performer, activist, poet and journalist, Angelou, 58, has spent most of her public life concerned with the problems and pride of being black. But what has made her autobiography so powerful is her ability—and willingness—to examine the nondoctrinaire woman behind those concerns. This is the fifth volume in a series that began in 1970 with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (if they gave prizes for book titles, she would have retired the trophy long ago). It covers 1962 to 1966, when she lived in the newly independent West African country of Ghana. Her struggle as a Black American among people who regarded her as an alien is often anguishing. Despite her determination to fit into the African culture, she often was homesick: “Who would dare admit a longing for a White nation so full of hate that it drove its citizens of color to madness, to death or to exile? How to confess even to one’s own self, that our eyes, historically customed to granite buildings, wide paved avenues, chromed cars, and brown, black, beige, pink and white-skinned people, often ached for those familiar sights?” Amid her larger scale problems, however, she was also trying to deal with being the mother of a 19-year-old son and with being a woman as susceptible to impulses of greed, selfishness, lust and pettiness as anyone else. When for a European tour she rejoined the original cast of the New York production of Jean Genet’s play The Blacks—a cast that included James Earl Jones, Lou Gossett Jr., Roscoe Lee Browne and Raymond St. Jacques—it inspired her to table her African pilgrimage and return to the United States to work with Malcolm X. Angelou describes these events with grace and candor, and it doesn’t hurt that she occasionally interjects words of wisdom from her mother: “You may not always get what you pay for, but you will definitely pay for what you get.” It is a satisfying thought that there are already 20 years more of these memoirs for Angelou to write, and for us to read. (Random House, $15.95)

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