The story of Maya Angelou's extraordinary life has been chronicled in her multiple bestselling autobiographies. But now, at last, the legendary author shares the deepest personal story of her life: her relationship with her mother. Read more...
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The story of Maya Angelou's extraordinary life has been chronicled in her multiple bestselling autobiographies. But now, at last, the legendary author shares the deepest personal story of her life: her relationship with her mother.
For the first time, Angelou reveals the triumphs and struggles of being the daughter of Vivian Baxter, an indomitable spirit whose petite size belied her larger-than-life presence--a presence absent during much of Angelou's early life. When her marriage began to crumble, Vivian famously sent three-year-old Maya and her older brother away from their California home to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. The subsequent feelings of abandonment stayed with Angelou for years, but their reunion, a decade later, began a story that has never before been told. In "Mom & Me & Mom," Angelou dramatizes her years reconciling with the mother she preferred to simply call "Lady," revealing the profound moments that shifted the balance of love and respect between them.
Delving into one of her life's most rich, rewarding, and fraught relationships, "Mom & Me & Mom" explores the healing and love that evolved between the two women over the course of their lives, the love that fostered Maya Angelou's rise from immeasurable depths to reach impossible heights.
Praise for "Mom & Me & Mom"
""Mom & Me & Mom" is delivered with Angelou's trademark good humor and fierce optimism. If any resentments linger between these lines, if lives are partially revealed without all the bitter details exposed, well, that is part of Angelou's forgiving design. As an account of reconciliation, this little book is just revealing enough, and pretty irresistible."--"The Washington Post"
"Moving . . . a remarkable portrait of two courageous souls."--"People"
" The] latest, and most potent, of her serial autobiographies . . . a] tough-minded, tenderhearted addition to Angelou's spectacular canon."--"Elle"
"Mesmerizing . . . Angelou has a way with words that can still dazzle us, and with her mother as a subject, Angelou has a near-perfect muse and mystery woman."--"Essence"
"True to her style, Angelou's] writing cuts to the chase with compression and simplicity, and there in the background is a calypso smoothness, flurries and showers of musicality between the moments of wickedness. . . . A tightly strung, finely tuned memoir about life with her mother."--"Kirkus Reviews"
"In this loving recollection of a complicated relationship, Angelou for the first time details the mother-daughter journey to reconciliation and unwavering connection and support. . . . Angelou vividly portrays a spirited woman. . . . A] remarkable and deeply revealing chronicle of love and healing."--"Booklist"
"Written with her customary eloquence . . . follows in the episodic style of Angelou's earlier volumes of autobiography, pulling the reader along effortlessly. The lessons and the love presented here will speak to those trying to make their way in the world."--"Publishers Weekly
"In straightforward style, "Mom & Me & Mom"dives deeply into Angelou's complicated relationship with her mother. . . . At 84, Angelou shows few signs of slowing down."--"BookPage"
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-01-21
- Reviewer: Staff
Written with her customary eloquence, Angelou’s latest focuses on her relationship with her mother, the fierce, beautiful, charismatic, and determined Vivian Baxter—dubbed “Lady” by the 13-year-old Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) upon their reunion. Amid the breakdown in her marriage, Baxter had sent Angelou and her brother, Bailey, to live with their paternal grandmother in Arkansas when they were toddlers. But as Bailey grew older, their grandmother sent them to live with their mother in California. Though initially dubious, Angelou soon found a fierce supporter and life teacher in Baxter. Over her lifetime, Baxter was a boarding house owner, a gambler, a registered nurse, a pioneering sailor, and head of Stockton Black Women for Humanity; wise and generous, she wasn’t opposed to threats and violence, when necessary. There are difficult times (including a violent, disturbing episode between Angelou and a jealous boyfriend), as well as triumphs, such as Angelou’s job as the first African-American female streetcar conductor, obtained thanks to Baxter’s encouragement. The book follows in the episodic style of Angelou’s earlier volumes of autobiography, pulling the reader along effortlessly. The lessons and the love presented here will speak to those trying to make their way in the world. B&w photos. Agent: Helen Brann, the Helen Brann Agency. (Apr.)
Lessons of love from the mother who left her behind
At the age of 84, Maya Angelou doesn’t have to write anymore. She has global fame as a poet, author and performer, as well as a professorship in American Studies at Wake Forest University. She has won three Grammys and a Presidential Medal of Arts, published two cookbooks, directed movies and appeared on “Sesame Street.”
She wrote her latest memoir, Mom & Me & Mom, not because she has to, but because she feels an obligation to share what she knows.
“Every adult owes to every young person the truth,” Angelou says in an interview with BookPage from her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “Not the facts—you can get the facts from various sources. The truth is how human beings feel—how a particular action makes a human being sad or happy—so that when young people encounter that particular feeling, they can say, oh, I know this feeling because someone else has been here before.”
In straightforward style, Mom & Me & Mom dives deeply into Angelou’s complicated relationship with her mother, Vivian Baxter Johnson, who owned gambling businesses and boarding houses in California and Nome, Alaska. Anyone who has read Angelou’s previous memoirs, including the searing I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, knows that Angelou and her brother, Bailey, were sent as very young children to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas.
Those readers might also have been left with the impression that Vivian Baxter Johnson was not mother material. In her new book, Angelou paints a more complete picture of the woman she called “Lady,” fleshing out in her wholly singular voice the story of what happened when their grandmother decided in the early 1940s that it was time they rejoined their mother in California. The move was mainly for her 14-year-old brother’s sake. It was, Angelou wrote, “a dangerous age for a black boy in the segregated South.”
Angelou was a gangly teenager when she was sent to California to live with her pretty, petite mother.
They traveled by train to San Francisco, settling in with Lady and her husband, “a wondrous, very pleasant-looking man” named Clidell Jackson. Angelou was a gangly teenager, six feet tall with a deep voice, and at first she felt ill at ease around her pretty, petite mother, who favored “red lips and high heels.”
Over time, their relationship warmed, and despite her illicit business interests and occasional arrests, Lady had strong opinions about maintaining the family’s reputation. “You will learn that we do not lie, and we do not cheat, and we do laugh a lot,” she tells Maya and Bailey shortly after their arrival.
While still in high school, Angelou decided she wanted a job as a conductorette on a San Francisco streetcar. With headstrong determination, she planted herself in the company office for two weeks until a supervisor finally accepted her application. When she was hired, the newspapers hailed her as “the first American Negro to work on the railway.” Her mother drove her to the streetcar barn each day to start her 4 a.m. shift, and drove behind the streetcar until daylight, a pistol on the car seat next to her.
When Angelou became pregnant while still in high school, she was terrified to tell her mother. But Lady was accepting of her daughter’s pregnancy, telling her, “We—you and I—and this family are going to have a wonderful baby. That’s all there is to that.”
Angelou gave birth right after graduating and worked two jobs to support herself and her young son, Guy. Trying hard to forge her own path, she moved into a boarding house, and would not accept money or even a ride from her mother, but did let Lady take Guy twice a week. Angelou raised him with humor and a firm desire that he be a strong, self-reliant man who was always true to himself.
“We got on so wonderfully well. I’m grateful for that,” Angelou says. “I’ve always loved him but I was never in love with him. When he was 8 or 9, I told him there was a place inside him which had to remain inviolate. No mother, no father, no boyfriend, no girlfriend could go there. It was the place he would go when he met his maker.”
Angelou longed to do more than work as a fry cook and a clerk in a record shop—just as her mother knew she would, long before Angelou knew it herself. In the book, Angelou recalls the time her mother stopped her while they walked toward the streetcar. “Baby,” her mother told her, “I’ve been thinking and now I am sure. You are the greatest woman I’ve ever met.”
“I got onto the streetcar,” Angelou says. “I can even remember the time of day—the sun shone onto the seats. I thought, suppose she’s right. Because she was very intelligent and always said she was too mean to lie.”
Angelou began dancing and singing, eventually traveling to Europe as part of an African-American production of Porgy and Bess. Guilt-ridden at leaving Guy behind for several months, Angelou suffered a breakdown and sought the advice of her vocal coach, who sat her down with a pad of paper and a pencil, and told her to write her blessings. It was in that moment that she found her written voice.
At 84, Angelou shows few signs of slowing down, although her famously powerful voice trembles a bit.
She keeps up with pop culture. “I did watch the Grammys,” she says. “I liked it all. I must admit I fell asleep.”
She cooks. “Whatever I cook is the best I know how to cook,” she says. “I’m not a chef but I’m a very serious cook. I respect the ingredients and I respect the people who eat them. My mother used to say a cook’s greatest tools are hands and nose and ears.”
She still hosts an annual Black History Month radio show aired around the nation. This year, she featured interviews with Kofi Annan, Oprah Winfrey and Alicia Keys, among others.
“There are so many reasons young black men in particular—and young black women—don’t value themselves. One of the reasons is they don’t know enough about who they are and whose they are,” she says. “I try to pack the hour [of radio] I have. This year I’m using more contemporary people. I want to continue to talk about the achievements, wherever they came from.”
And she’s a loving grandmother. She speaks proudly of her grandson’s recent graduation from George Washington University with a master’s degree in international finance, and her desire to “be to my grandson what my grandmother was to me. And I am! He thinks I’m the bee’s knees.”
As for what her own mother—her biggest champion—would think of Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou is certain. “I think she’d love it,” she says. “It tells some of her truth. She deserved to have a real fine daughter.”