Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou.
Bantam, New York, 1977 (originally published 1976).
Adult autobiography, 242 pages.
In a funny coincidence, I gave away Angelou books (not even read yet… but better loved by someone else) and then a month later came across this in the free books. Of course I started reading this one immediately and it was fascinating. I’ve read quite a bit of her poetry before, but never one of her autobiographies. Upon reading this one I realized that they are probably best read chronologically.
This title is the third, and covers the time when she lived in San Francisco after her son was born, worked a wide variety of jobs, spent a few years married to a white man, and eventually found herself with an entertainment career that took her all over the world, but sadly separated her from her son.
Angelou writes with an immediacy and a blatant honesty that is disarming but also at times difficult to read. She is quite frank about her sex life, her opinions about her various jobs and acquaintances, her religious beliefs, and her feelings as a parent. She references previous books (hence why I feel these would be better read in order) and hints at future events. Big D was head-over-heels for these books, and I can finally see why now that I’ve gotten a chance to read one.
Because these do go into very mature territory at times, I wouldn’t generally recommend them for students below high school (although individual passages may be appropriate). There is some cursing and many sexual references (Angelou worked at a strip club during part of the time this book takes place), but it didn’t feel gratuitous. She examines quite closely racial relations through various people she encounters, and this was probably my favorite part of the book, even if it did make me squirm at times.
Angelou finds herself frequently working with white people, but distinguishes that from her personal life with her family and close friends. At first she is very uncomfortable around whites, but she gradually gets to know a wide variety of people and feel comfortable in various circles.
One very interesting aspect of this is she goes through how she came to get the name Maya Angelou out of all the various names and nicknames she’d had up until that point. I won’t spoil the twists and turns of the that story for you, but if you’re a fan of hers, it’s worth reading and very ironic.
Her son also undergoes his own name change, from Clyde to Guy. The descriptions of their relationship were also a fascinating part of the book, although she spent most of it away from him either at work or traveling for work.
When she travels abroad, Angelou finds herself in a unique position – although her skin color may be disdained, her American passport is seen as a way out for a variety of suitors from various countries. She also finds there is a great difference in the way Sudanese blacks are treated in France, rather like how she feels about America versus her treatment outside of America.
This seems to be one of the less popular volumes in Angelou’s autobiography, but I still found it an enjoyable read. She brings to life a particular time and place from her past in an interesting way. However, do be forewarned that the book has nothing to do with Christmas, despite that word being in the title!