In The Heart of a Woman, Maya Angelou leaves California with her son, Guy, to move to New York. There she enters the society and world of black artists and writers, reads her work at the Harlem Writers Guild, and begins to take part in the struggle of black Americans for their rightful place in the world. In the meantime, her personal life takes an unexpected turn. She leaves the bail bondsman she was intending to marry after falling in love with a South African freedom fighter, travels with him to London and Cairo, where she discovers new opportunities.
The Heart of a Woman is filled with unforgettable vignettes of such renowned people as Billie Holiday and Malcom X, but perhaps most importantly chronicles the joys and the burdens of a black mother in America and how the son she has cherished so intensely and worked for so devotedly finally grows to be a man.
The Heart of a Woman (1981) is an autobiography by American writer Maya Angelou. The book is the fourth installment in Angelou's series of seven autobiographies. The Heart of a Woman recounts events in Angelou's life between 1957 and 1962 and follows her travels to California, New York City, Cairo, and Ghana as she raises her teenage son, becomes a published author, becomes active in the US civil rights movement, and becomes romantically involved with a South African freedom fighter. One of the most important themes of The Heart of a Woman is motherhood, as Angelou continues to raise her teenage son. The book ends with Angelou's son leaving for college and Angelou looking forward to newfound independence and freedom.
Like Angelou's previous volumes, the book has been described as autobiographical fiction, though most critics, as well as Angelou, have characterized it as autobiography. Although most critics consider Angelou's first autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings more favorably, The Heart of a Woman has received positive reviews. It was chosen as an Oprah's Book Club selection in 1997.
Critic Mary Jane Lupton says it has "a narrative structure unsurpassed in American autobiography" and that it is Angelou's "most introspective" autobiography. The title is taken from a poem by Harlem Renaissance poet Georgia Douglas Johnson, which connects Angelou with other female African-American writers. African-American literature critic Lyman B. Hagen states, "Faithful to the ongoing themes of survival, sense of self, and continuing education, The Heart of a Woman moves its central figures to a point of full personhood". The book follows Angelou to several places in the US and Africa, but the most important journey she describes is "a voyage into the self".