When Terry Tempest Williams' mother passed away, she left behind, bequeathed to her daughter, an extensive collection of personal journals, assembled over a lifetime.
When Terry went to read them, she discovered they were, to a one, completely blank.
When Women Were Birds (Picador, 2012) is Terry's lovely and unusual memoir exploring the many questions invited by the gift of these unwritten diaries, a mother's legacy of love and support, and the journey to finding her own voice.
Less a chronological autobiography than a selective and poetic reflection on the connecting themes and threads of her own personal narrative, Williams' memoir is an inspiring read for women writers of all kinds. She tells the story of being an unconventional, free-spirited child and woman growing up in Utah's traditional Mormon culture, chafing against many of its expectations and conventions. Her love of nature, science, and environmental activism, along with her choice not to pursue a life of motherhood and child-raising, often set her at odds with her larger community. But the memoir is less about events themselves, and more about her inner journey - feeling at odds with the world around her, discerning her own calling, and the long bumpy path to living and writing in a voice she could finally claim as her own. I was moved by the deeply loving way in which she writes about her relationship with her mother, the honesty with which she confesses her own flaws, and the openness and determination with which she keeps learning and writing. And her words are simply beautiful.
Special thanks to Julianne at Outlandish Lit for this excellent and inspiring reading recommendation.
I purchased my copy of When Women Were Birds.