All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes Study Guide

All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes

All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou

All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes Book Summary

All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes begins as Angelou's previous book, The Heart of a Woman , ends: with her depiction of a serious automobile accident involving her son Guy. After spending two years in Cairo, they come to Accra to enroll Guy in the University of Ghana, and the accident occurs three days after they arrive. Following Guy's long convalescence, they remain in Ghana, Angelou for four years, from 1962 to 1965. Angelou describes Guy's recovery, including her deep depression. She is confronted by her friend Julian Mayfield, who introduces her to writer and actor Efua Sutherland, the Director of the National Theatre of Ghana. Sutherland becomes Angelou's "sister-friend" and allows her to cry out all her pain and bitterness.

Angelou finds a job at the University of Ghana and "falls in love" with the country and with its people, who remind her of African Americans she knew in Arkansas and California. As the parent of an adult, she experiences new freedoms, respects Guy's choices, and consciously stops making her son the center of her life. She creates new friendships with her roommates and native Africans, both male and female. She becomes part of a group of American expatriates whom she calls the "Revolutionist Returnees", people such as Mayfield and his wife Ana Livia, who share her struggles.

Angelou strengthens her ties with Africa while traveling through eastern Ghanaian villages, and through her relationships with several Africans. She describes a few romantic prospects, one of which is with a man who proposes that she become his "second wife" and accept West African customs. She also becomes a supporter of Ghana president Kwame Nkrumah and close friends with tribal leader Nana Nketsia and poet Kwesi Brew. During one of her travels through West Africa, a woman identifies her as a member of the Bambara tribe based solely upon her appearance and behavior, which helps Angelou discover the similarities between her American traditions and those of her West African ancestors.

Although Angelou is disillusioned with the nonviolent strategies of Martin Luther King, Jr., she and her friends commemorate his 1963 march on Washington by organizing a parallel demonstration in Ghana. The demonstration becomes a tribute to African-American W.E.B. Du Bois, who has died the previous evening. A few pages later, she allies herself with Malcolm X, who visits Ghana in 1964 to elicit the support of Black world leaders. He encourages Angelou to return to America to help him coordinate his efforts, as she had done for King in The Heart of a Woman . While driving Malcolm X to the airport, he chastises her for her bitterness about Du Bois' wife Shirley Graham's lack of support for the civil rights movement.

Angelou and her roommates reluctantly hire a village boy named Kojo to do housework for them. He reminds her of her brother Bailey, and he serves as a substitute for her son Guy. She accepts a maternal role with Kojo, helping him with his schoolwork and welcoming the thanks of his family. Traveling Shoes , like Angelou's previous autobiographies, is full of conflicts with Guy, especially surrounding his independence, his separation from his mother, and his choices. When she learns that he is dating a woman older than her, she reacts with anger and threatens to strike him, but he patronizes her, calls her his "little mother", and insists upon his autonomy from her.

The African narrative in Traveling Shoes is interrupted by "a journey within a journey" when she decides to join a theatrical company in a revival of The Blacks , a play by French writer Jean Genet. As she had done in New York City and described in her previous autobiography The Heart of a Woman , she plays the White Queen and tours Berlin and Venice with the company, which include Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Lou Gossett, Jr. and Roscoe Lee Brown. While in Berlin, she accepts a breakfast invitation with a racist, wealthy German family.

The book ends with Angelou's decision to return to America. At the airport, a group of her friends and associates, including Guy, are present to wish her farewell as she leaves. She metaphorically connects her departure from the African continent with the forced enslavement of her ancestors and her departure from Guy.

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