Gather Together in My Name
by Maya Angelou
(Random House, April 2009)

A personal account of her teenage life as an African-American mother, dancer, and opportunist, Angelou stops at nothing to prove her worth and ensure her child’s safety. Gather Together in My Name is Maya Angelou’s second autobiography where she reveals the idiosyncrasies of her eventful life at that time. Mostly people view Angelou as a spiritual, sagacious, and graceful mentor who is the rainbow in everybody’s clouds, but underneath this well-celebrated demeanor is a vessel of hardships and setbacks, the undisputed power of displacement, and the self-deprecatory longing for true love.

The prequel to this autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is a monumental one from which Angelou has gained her renowned reputation. It delves into Angelou’s childhood days spent with her Grandma Henderson in Stamps, Arkansas. Angelou becomes a victim of rape at the tender age of eight and its repercussions trap her inside five years of mutism. Later, in her first memoir, Angelou conceives a child and names him Guy Johnson. She is sixteen and completely perplexed. Gather Together in My Name begins with the steadiness of Angelou’s existential uncertainty: she has dropped out of school, she is jobless, she has a son to raise, and above all, she is a woman of color whose only asset is the alacrity she can show to adopt the normalcy of life.

“I would quit the house, take a job, and show the whole world (my son’s father) that I was equal to my pride and greater than my pretensions.” Angelou soon leaves her mother’s 14-room house to start a new life with her son. She wants to be out of her comfort zone in order to learn from the variegated challenges she is compelled to face and eventually overcome. Nothing is constant in her life. She is not just Marguerite (her original name), but she assumes several personas, including Rita, Reet, Maya, My, Sister, Sugar, and Miss Johnson. Apart from assuming a variety of personas, she likes taking up, then abandoning a myriad of jobs that interest her, both legal and illegal in nature. She tries on different occupations like clothes in a boutique store: she is a cook, a waitress, a teenage madam, an army recruit, dancer, a love-struck prostitute, restaurant manager, and a chauffeur. Even the list of her lovers is not a small one. Two lovers who play a significant role in her life at that time are R.L. Poole and L.D. Tolbrook. The former abandons Angelou for his previous partner and the latter tricks her into prostitution. Angelou is not reticent to open up about her past. In fact, she embodies different archetypes for her different pasts. She is not one, and that is phenomenal.

These changes in names, jobs, and lovers can most likely be equated with Jacques Lacan’s mirror phase theory. Angelou, being a victim of racial prejudice, knows in her heart that people will always look at her external appearance and make judgments. As revealed in her autobiography, she does not consider herself physically attractive. Perhaps the indecisiveness of her behavior contributes to the longing for others to understand her in deeper ways and form better perceptions of her image. These fluctuating events lead Angelou towards self-actualization and a readiness to start a promising dancing career by the end of this autobiography.

Born in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri; Maya Angelou is an author, poet, dancer, actress, screenwriter, and matriarch. The events described in Gather Together in My Name play an integral part in shaping and molding Angelou’s path towards gradual success. Her words are interlocked in a poetic and poignant manner with a dash of humor. The frequent use of Black Secular dialect enhances the diction and makes it look more captivating and bodacious. Next in line is her third autobiography, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry like Christmas. It has the usual touch of natural talent and indelible honesty in relating her life stories!

Click here to buy Gather Together in My Name.