The Heart of a Woman is an autobiography by Maya Angelou about her struggles as an African-American women, her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and her development as a writer. The book follows Angelou's life from 1957 to 1962, beginning with her life in California with her son Guy . She moves to New York, becoming a member of the Harlem Writers Guild and becoming involved with Civil Rights activism. Eventually she moves with South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make to England and Egypt, working as a writer and studying.
The events described in The Heart of a Woman take place between 1957 and 1962, beginning shortly after the end of Angelou's previous autobiography, Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas . Angelou and her teenage son Guy have moved into a houseboat commune in Sausalito. After a year, they move to a rented house near San Francisco. Singer Billie Holiday visits Angelou and her son there and Holiday sings "Strange Fruit", her famous song about the lynching of Black men, to Guy. Holiday tells Angelou, "You're going to be famous. But it won't be for singing." In 1959, Angelou and Guy move to New York City. The transition is difficult for Guy, and Angelou is forced to protect him from a gang leader. No longer satisfied with performing in nightclubs, she dedicates herself to acting, writing, political organizing, and her son. Her friend, novelist John Killens, invites her to join the Harlem Writers Guild. She meets other important African-American artists and writers, including James Baldwin, who would become her mentor. She becomes a published writer for the first time.
Angelou becomes more politically active and participates in African-American and African protest rallies, including helping to organize a sit-in at the United Nations following the death of Zaire's prime minister, Patrice Lumumba. She meets Malcolm X and is struck by his good looks and magnetism. After hearing Martin Luther King, Jr. speak, she and her friend activist Godfrey Cambridge are inspired to produce a successful fundraising event for King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) called Cabaret For Freedom . King names her coordinator of SCLC's office in New York. She performs in Jean Genet's play, The Blacks , with Roscoe Lee Brown, James Earl Jones, and Cicely Tyson.
In 1961, Angelou meets South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make. Angelou and Make never marry, but she and Guy move with Make to London and Cairo, where she acts as his political wife while he was in exile. Their relationship is full of cultural conflicts; he expects her to be a subservient African wife, and she yearns for the freedom of a working woman. She learns that Make is too friendly with other women and is irresponsible with money, so she accepts a position as assistant editor at the Arab Observer . Their relationship is examined by their community of friends, and Angelou and Make eventually separate. Angelou accepts a job in Liberia, and she and Guy travel to Accra, where he has been accepted to attend college. Guy is seriously injured in an automobile accident, so she begins working at the University of Ghana and remains there while he recuperates. The Heart of a Woman ends with Guy leaving for college and Angelou remarking to herself, "At last, I'll be able to eat the whole breast of a roast chicken by myself."