Travel writing classics: All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes,

by Maya Angelou (1986)


A different kind of travel writing again to what we have so far featured, but most certainly a classic of the genre.

All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes is part of Maya Angelou's autobiographical series which began with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

This volume - the fifth of seven - focuses on her time spent in Ghana from 1962 to 1965, although she does also briefly tour Berlin and Venice as part of the cast of Jean Genet's The Blacks at one point. Far from being a conventional travel narrative, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes is very much a journey in search of self, and a sense of belonging.

Angelou hopes to find acceptance in West Africa, what she sees as her ancestral home, but in fact finds that she is and perhaps will always be considered an American ex-pat and to some degree an outsider. That is not to say she is not treated with a great deal of hospitality by the Ghanaians she meets and befriends, just that it is with her fellow ex-pats - the group of so-called "Revolutionist Returnees" - that she seems to find a nearer sense of home, or at least understanding.

Whilst she travels through villages and meets with tribal leaders, even organising a demonstration mirroring Martin Luther King's Washington march, the civil rights struggle keeps seeping in - most obviously when she meets with a visiting Malcolm X who asks her to return to join him in America. As she ultimately resolves to leave, there is a sense in which she feels compelled to do so rather than choosing to - she is torn from Africa to travel to America, and compares her departure to the despicable abduction of her ancestors generations before.

It is a powerful, personal journey to awareness, without which Angelou would probably not have become the writer she was.

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