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When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voiceby Terry Tempest Williams
Synopses & Reviews
The beloved author of Refuge returns with a work that explodes and startles, illuminates and celebrates.
Terry Tempest Williams's mother told her: "I am leaving you all my journals, but you must promise me you won't look at them until after I'm gone."
Readers of Williams's iconic and unconventional memoir, Refuge, well remember that mother. She was one of a large Mormon clan in northern Utah who developed cancer as a result of the nuclear testing in nearby Nevada. It was a shock to Williams to discover that her mother had kept journals. But not as much of a shock as what she found when the time came to read them.
"They were exactly where she said they would be: three shelves of beautiful cloth-bound books...I opened the first journal. It was empty. I opened the second journal. It was empty. I opened the third. It too was empty....Shelf after shelf after shelf, all of my mother's journals were blank." What did Williams's mother mean by that? In fifty-four chapters that unfold like a series of yoga poses, each with its own logic and beauty, Williams creates a lyrical and caring meditation of the mystery of her mother's journals. When Women Were Birds is a kaleidoscope that keeps turning around the question "What does it mean to have a voice?"
"Williams, the sensitive author of Refuge, is shocked to discover her deceased mother's unwritten memoirs — shelves worth of blank pages. Under such unpromising circumstances commences a kaleidoscopic celebration and palimpsest — all metaphorical cliches but apt — on finding a voice and woman's identity beyond the silenced, selfless existence informed by children and a husband — even a family brimming with love. The empty pages of a journal manifest a hermeneutics of suspicion: the white upon which to project a lifelong journey of self-discovery. In 54 meditations (one for each year of her mother's life, and of Williams's life to date), we learn about an unusual (patriarchal) Mormon background and an upbringing that included a season of homeschooling in Hawaii, encounters with a husband-and-wife team of John Bircher's while teaching high school biology , a job at the Museum of Natural History in New York City, and the meeting of her future mate over a discussion of books and birds. Among deep influences are Nobel Peace Prize-winner and environmentalist Wangari Maathai; Helene Cixous; Clarice Lispector; the secret-women's language of China...and the soaring operas of Richard Strauss. 'If a man knew what a woman never forgets, he would love her differently,' Williams declares in her bighearted, deliberative hymn: old themes newly warbled. Agent: Carl Brandt, Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"The writing of Terry Tempest Williams is brilliant, meditative, and full of surprises, wisdom, and wonder. She's one of those writers who changes people's lives by encouraging attention and a slow, patient awakening." Anne Lamott, author of Imperfect Birds
"Much more than a brave and luminous memoir, When Women Were Birds is a set of blueprints for building one of Americas most impassioned and audacious writers, as well as a transcript of the moment when she stepped determinedly into the full power of her own voice. In Terry's magical equation, rage + confusion + grief + accountability = love. At some point I realized I was reading every page twice trying to memorize each insight, each bit of hard-won wisdom. Then I realized I could keep it on my bedside table and read it every night." Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted
"Somehow, miraculously, Terry Tempest Williams has done it again: written a book that no one else could have, that tells the truth about our lives. If you want to understand how a writer finds her voice, read this gorgeous book." Sue Halpern, author of Can't Remember What I Forgot
"When Women Were Birds is a wise and beautiful and intelligent book, written for the women, men, and children of our times. It vibrates with the earned honesty of a great soul. It is a gift, passed on to readers with the same spirit of love and generosity with which it was first given to the author by her mother. A remarkable journey, a remarkable story." Rick Bass, author of The Wild Marsh
"Williams narrates stories that range wide and run deep...Here, readers get a Terry Tempest Williams who is at the top of her game, the master of her craft...a gift from a writer who knows how to split the world open. Cheryl Strayed, Orion
About the Author
Terry Tempest Williams is the award-winning author of fourteen books, including Leap, An Unspoken Hunger, Refuge, and, most recently, Finding Beauty in a Broken World. She divides her time between Castle Valley, Utah, and Moose, Wyoming.
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