Customer Reviews: Gather Together in My Name
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on March 11, 2004
"Gather Together in My Name" is a work of autobiography by Maya Angelou. It picks up the story of her life after "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and begins when she is 17 years old and the mother of her son, Guy. Marguerite (her proper name) knows that she has to find a job so she can support herself and her son. This book covers several jobs in several cities and is an amazingly powerful look at her life.
What I know of Maya Angelou is that she is a celebrated author who has written volumes of poetry and autobiography and that she seems to be a friend and favorite guest of Oprah Winfrey. The woman she is now, from all that I can tell, is a beautiful soul. What I didn't know was the experiences of her life and how she came to be the woman she is. These series of autobiographies tell of Angelou's life and the reality far surpasses anything I could have imagined.
In this volume alone Maya worked as a dancer, a cook (multiple times), a Madam, a waitress, and briefly as a prostitute. The power comes in the how, the why, and in the telling of the story of these jobs and in Maya's raising of her son and interactions with her family, co-workers, false friends, and with men.
Each volume of Maya Angelou's autobiography is fairly slim (this one was 181 pages), but the life she has lived is so fascinating that I would highly recommend reading it (any of them). It will not take up much of your time, but it shows the life of a young woman growing up and living a life uncommon.
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on June 4, 2000
I read the first and second book in Maya Angelou biographies. "Gather Together In My Name" is the sequel to "I know Why the Cage Bird Sings." In "Gather Together In My Name," Maya Angelou is still in her teens and has given birth to her son, Guy. The time that this book takes place is at the end of World War 2. This time is a time of new beginnings, especially for black people. Maya Angelou tries to find a place in the world that will except her and her son. This is most difficult for her, because she can't find a decent job and her family won't help support her son. She becomes a short-order cook and falls in love, a brief affair that makes her want a relationship, that will bring affection and security for herself and her baby. The job doesn't last long, neither do her relationships. She moves from job to job and man to man. She feels as if nothing is working for her. And that she's not accepted in society. She tries to go to the army, but doesn't get in. She becomes a night club dancer and loves that, but her new partner drops her for another women. She then works at a house for prostitution. She makes no money prostituting but as the business manager it works out for her but only a little while. Her many challenges in life has helped succeed in life, and in her careers. Her harsh experiences helped her become a great writer, and poet. I liked this book a lot. No matter what she never gave up and that is what made her strong. She is a "Phenomenal Women."
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on July 26, 1996
This is the second in Maya Angelou's series of books about her life. It is as beautifully written as the first volume, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and covers her life from the ages of sixteen to nineteen. For many of us, these years would not make for fascinating reading, but for Ms. Angelou these were years of searching and experimenting in a time when opportunities were plentiful, but usually contained hidden costs. Much of the book is about how Ms. Angelou belatedly discovered the hidden agendas of those she came to love. Indeed, hardly anything turned out the way she planned. Ms. Angelou is completely honest about her life, her naivety, her ambitions, and especially her feelings. She successfully evokes all the feelings and dreams of a young woman who is trying to make it as an adult. This is a powerful book in which the author invites you into her innermost world, and lets you share her excitement, disappointment, fear, elation, hardship, mistakes, and desires. Ms. Angelou experienced much more during these years than most of us would dream of: She worked as a cook, waitress, dancer, prostitute, clothing seller, restaurant manager and Madam. In between jobs she retreated to life with family. All of her experiences are described in vivid detail yet so straightforwardly that the book is actually quite short (181 pages). I highly recommend this book, as well as the first volume of Ms. Angelou's autobiography
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on September 1, 1998
Too often when I have read someone's memoirs or an autobiography I have had the suspicion that the author is painting a very self-serving portrait of the events in their lives. Reading Maya's memoirs is the exception. She didn't have to tell the world that she worked for awhile as a 'pimp', as a prostitute, or as an exotic dancer. Many people wouldn't have for fear of personal embarrasment. Maya is beyond that. She owns her life and shows us her successes, her mistakes, and never tries to make excuses or blame others. Maya knows that everyone has their dark moments and when we take ourselves too seriously and only show the world our successes we rob everyone of valuable lessons. I found this book to be one of the best I have ever read. Congratulations Maya on a job well done.
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on April 17, 2000
There's no question why children all over the world are advised to read this book. This is the second of Maya Angelou's books that I have read, and I really enjoyed it. It's truthful and honest, but frankly, some parts of the book disgusted me. But, although I don't agree with some of the author's choices, this book is a good read. However, because of some of the content, I would only recommended it to a mature reader. If you want to read a book which doens't hide the fact that everyone makes mistakes, give this one a try.
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on October 14, 2005
There were times as I was reading this book that I cringed and thought to myself "How could she be so stupid." But I had to remind myself of her tender age in this story. She did a lot of things at a young age that many of us may never do in our entire lifetime. Prostitution, Pimping and drugs. This book had so much purpose and that's why I call it "One of the best book that I read all year". It's written like a novel so it doesn't come off preachy or like a self help book. Maya Angelou tells a portion of her story. She uncovers layers of clothing and bares the naked truth of her young adulthood. To me this is not just a story of a black woman and a black womans struggles; this is a story about hard knocks and people of all races and nationalities experience them. "Rita" felt like she had to make her own way, she felt like she needed all of the answers at once. No one was going to take care of her and son. And at the same time, while she felt the burdens of independence, she also felt the emptieness and lonlieness that we all feel some time or another just because we are human. "Rita" made a lot of poor decisions, but that's not the reason that we know her today. We don't know her because she was once a madam on the West Coast, or a prostitute in Stockton, or a cook in Oakland. We know her because she found God's plan for her life and stuck with it.
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on July 18, 2006
GATHER TOGETHER IN MY NAME is a difficult book to read. Oh, not because of Angelou's syntax, vocabulary or sentence structure. On the contrary, she writes in a clear, direct style that, if anything, may be a little too unembellished for some readers' pleasure. Now and then, to convey an effect more distinctly to the reader, her words suggest the patois of the speaker whom she is quoting. But no, the difficulty does not lie in the words, but rather in the message. It is painful to experience, even vicariously, the feelings of entrapment, abandonment, and repeated failure that Angelou presents to us. It is frustrating to see her heading from one failed endeavor to another, from one jilting to another, from one desperate attempt "to find her niche" to another.

How could anyone be so naive? How could anyone be so gullible? How could anyone be such a victim? The reader must remind himself, however, that, at the time of her life depicted in this book, Angelou is not the accomplished writer and poet of her later years. She is a confused, culturally lost teenager with a child and has experienced little besides rejection for her entire young life. She is very much an innocent girl with a growing resentment of the world around her but with a trusting optimism and an over-developed faith in her own worth, all of which combine to make her quite vulnerable to those who would prey upon her.

She is the product of a failed marriage and was sent by her father to be raised by his mother in Stamps, Arkansas in the 1940's, a location and era in which being Black was not a positive attribute. Though GATHER TOGETHER deals with her later teenage years, we do get a few glimpses of the segregated society into which she had been born. After having sampled the bitter workaday world of menial jobs in California, she returns to her Southern childhood home without the necessary subservience required of a Black and insults the supercilious clerks in a store in the white part of town, after which she must be hurriedly sent back to California to avoid the inevitable vengeance of the "white boys." The effect of growing up in this kind of hostile, demeaning environment must be kept in mind if the reader is to have any hope at understanding the formative influences that produced the attitudes that we witness in the Angelou of this book.

One quite understandable result of her upbringing is that the young Angelou (though not yet known by that name) has no social relationship whatsoever with Caucasian society. To say that she distrusts that society is not quite accurate, for the word "distrust" suggests that she has examined the society and found it deceitful. However, at this point in her life, she has not even examined it. Black and White society and culture are so different, so mutually exclusive, that they exist on different worlds or in different dimensions, and "never the twain shall meet." Because, perhaps, of her total alienation from Caucasian society and culture, the young Angelou seems to trust Blacks uncritically, even though other Blacks are the consistent source of her painful lessons in life--used by one while his girlfriend is elsewhere, maneuvered into prostitution by another, her baby stolen by a third--Angelou still clings to Black society. But, then, what other option had she?

I worry somewhat that younger readers who cannot relate to the legally segregated United States that endured into the 1960s will not find this personal history very believable. I worry also that those who have not lived in the South (even in the 21st century!) or near a ghetto will find the cultural stigma and limitations of being Black extreme and unrealistic. There are those readers who, not understanding the very real social, cultural, economic, and even legal shackles that bound Blacks long after the physical shackles of slavery were shed, will feel that Angelou is, at the very least, exaggerating the conditions which she had to endure and will place more blame upon her for bringing about her own tribulations than is warranted. However, those readers are the very ones who should take the book to heart, for it may help them comprehend just a little bit more of America's dark underbelly than white, middle-class America normally sees. They will find the message difficult and bitter to assimilate, yet it is a part of our country's history and needs to be learned.
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on December 4, 1997
This beautifully descriptive story takes place some time before the 1940's. It talks about the stuggles that blacks were facing, before the time that civil rights groups were starting to develop. As an Afican American, the story she depicts makes me proud of my race and the world as the HUMAN race. Maya Angelou is an exceptional author and to write about her own life experiences enriches the story and enlightens the reader of our past. I stongly urge anyone, no matter what race you are, to read this book.
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on August 29, 1997
This book was a real eye opener for me as a white woman. I read of her stuggles in a white dominated world and found myself cheering her on. It suprised me. The issues were balck/white and I was cheering for her team.
Her strength of character and her boldness in adversity made me proud to be a woman. She tells it as only she can.
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on January 3, 2015
Maya Angelou's story is fascinating. In this volume she is making the transition from from child-mother to woman, with a lot of learning along the way. She is fundamentally adventurous, willing to try anything, and still looking for a calling. The writing is concise and engaging painting vivid pictures of US society at the time
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