Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou | A Review

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.

(Synopsis and image via Goodreads)

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My Thoughts:

The seventh in her autobiographical series, Mom & Me & Mom takes Maya Angelou‘s reader into a never before touched on subject–the relationship between Angelou and her mother, Vivian Baxter.

In this poignant look at life with a mother who is the direct opposite of everything you see in yourself, Angelou shares stories of pain and hurt, responsibilities taken, reconciliation, and love and respect. Vivian Baxter was petite, but a definite force to be reckoned with; Angelou was always a larger than life woman physically but not as strong as Vivian, or “Lady,” as she came to call her mother.

At the tender age of three, Maya was sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with her grandmother. This decision rested on the deteriorating marriage Vivian found herself struggling to hold together. For a decade, Angelou fought feelings of abandonment. At this juncture, their reconciliation began and would become a turning point in Angelou’s life.

In this short volume, Angelou shares what has become the richest and most rewarding relationship of her life. Rooted in healing and love, Maya Angelou’s relationship with her mother took Angelou from “immeasurable depths to reach impossible heights.”

My Recommendation:

A longtime fan of Maya Angelou’s works, especially those of autobiographical nature, I highly recommend this work for anyone interested in reading autobiography, memoir and life stories and especially for those interested in writing same.

About Maya Angelou:

Dr. Maya Angelou is one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time. Hailed as a global renaissance woman, Dr. Angelou is a celebrated poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist.

Born on April 4th, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, Dr. Angelou was raised in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas. In Stamps, Dr. Angelou experienced the brutality of racial discrimination, but she also absorbed the unshakable faith and values of traditional African-American family, community, and culture.

As a teenager, Dr. Angelou’s love for the arts won her a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School. At 14, she dropped out to become San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor. She later finished high school, giving birth to her son, Guy, a few weeks after graduation. As a young single mother, she supported her son by working as a waitress and cook, however her passion for music, dance, performance, and poetry would soon take center stage.

In 1954 and 1955, Dr. Angelou toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. She studied modern dance with Martha Graham, danced with Alvin Ailey on television variety shows and, in 1957, recorded her first album, Calypso Lady. In 1958, she moved to New York, where she joined the Harlem Writers Guild, acted in the historic Off-Broadway production of Jean Genet’s The Blacks and wrote and performed Cabaret for Freedom.

In 1960, Dr. Angelou moved to Cairo, Egypt where she served as editor of the English language weekly The Arab Observer. The next year, she moved to Ghana where she taught at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama, worked as feature editor for The African Review and wrote for The Ghanaian Times.

During her years abroad, Dr. Angelou read and studied voraciously, mastering French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti. While in Ghana, she met with Malcolm X and, in 1964, returned to America to help him build his new Organization of African American Unity.

To read the rest of Dr. Angelou’s bio, click here …

Book Details:
Published: April 02, 2013
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 224 (hard cover)
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6611-7

Click here to read an excerpt and here to read advance praise.

Tips for Rewriting Your Manuscript, Part 2

Via Flickr | Tanvi Jaiman
Via Flickr | Tanvi Jaiman

Last week Part 1 of Tips for Rewriting provided three tips:

(1) There is no perfect first draft;

(2) Never look back; and

(3) Write, wait, edit.

Today I have other tips I hope you will find as helpful as I did as I came across them in reading on the topic of rewriting.

Tips in these two posts may not be in an exact order or progression with rewriting your manuscript, but I believe you can fit the puzzle pieces together.



Picking up with last week’s list:

Tip 4. Are You Bored?

While reading and revising your manuscript, ask the all important question, “Am I bored?” If you answer “yes,” then heed the advice often attributed to writer and teacher Margot Livesey:

If you are bored, it’s not because you’ve read that section so many times, it’s because it’s boring.

Remember great writing is always engaging. Think of the books you’ve read and re-read and read again. If the writing isn’t great writing, you are not going to waste your time reading it. Why then would someone want to read your writing if it isn’t great writing?

Lesson Learned: Make certain your writing is not boring you. If it is, your reader will be bored too.

Tip 5. Distance Yourself from Your Writing

Via Google Images
Via Google Images

This is hard! You know what you intended to write and most likely, you feel good about your manuscript. It is also likely that you will read your intentions into the manuscript.

Do something to trick yourself into believing you’re looking at something other than your own manuscript–use a different font, change the margins, use a different medium, work in a different setting. Before reading the text again, divorce yourself from the manuscript so that you read it as if reading it for the first time.

Lesson Learned: Distance yourself from your writing before reading it again. Trick yourself into seeing it as your readers will see it.

Tip 6. Structural Changes, Polishing and Finishing Touches

You’ve finished your first draft, celebrated like crazy, and taken some time away from your baby. Now it’s time to begin your first rewrite or second draft. A good time for structural changes.

Via Google Images
Via Google Images

The second draft and/or read through is the time to watch for major gaps. You are given the opportunity to rewrite sentences, paragraphs, scenes, or even whole chapters. Or you may decide to rewrite the entire book. There is no hard and fast rule here. You make this decision.

In your third drafting, you polish your manuscript, much like sanding down a house’s foundation. And lastly, those last finishing touches.

Basically, the first draft digs your book’s foundation, the second frames the structure, and the third entails finish work.

Lesson Learned: Think of drafts as if they were the phases of a construction job: foundation, framing and finishing. 

Tip 7. The Eyes Have It.

One important part of writing and rewriting is asking others to read your manuscript. Another set or multiple sets of eyes will see things you, the writer, will miss because of your closeness to your work.

Via Google Images
Via Google Images

Remember your first draft is for your eyes only, but when you know your manuscript is ready for other eyes, send it out to as many friends as you can. These readers are called beta readers. Beta readers’ fresh eyes help you see what your book really is, not just what you think it is.

Lesson Learned: The writer is too close to his or her work to be the only reader at the end of the day.

These tips and the tips in Part 1 barely scratch the surface of the tips, suggestions, and mountains of advice for revising and rewriting manuscripts available through books and the Internet. What I have shared are those tips that have come to me thus far in reading, revising and rewriting my own manuscript.

There are no hard and fast rules about handling your manuscript. Each writer finds his or her groove or comfortable working style, and each has the right to do it their own way.

However, the Internet has provided us the ability to communicate worldwide about many topics, my favorite of which is writing. Through our community of writers and our sharing we can make each other better writers.

I leave you with a quote from writer Michael Crichton which sums up the rewriting process:

Books aren’t written—they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it. 

What rewriting tips do have you used that you’d be willing to share here? Part of the reason for the blogging community is to share information. So, please leave comments below.

Tips for Rewriting Your Manuscript, Part 1

Via Flickr | Nic McPhee
Via Flickr | Nic McPhee

I often have friends and family asking me a burning question:

Is your book finished yet?

I smile and say, “No, not yet. There’s a lot of work that goes into writing a book, you know.”

In a recent post, I talked about rewriting the first draft of my memoir. I never imagined this rewrite could bring enjoyment to my writing life, but also the simple act of learning new things delights me.

Today I’m sharing a few tips I’ve learned about rewriting. If you already know them, please share them with a first-time writer (like me) or a younger writer (not so much like me) who may find them helpful.

Tip 1: Taken from the Hemingway Archives

Can you even imagine The Old Man and the Sea being rewritten by Hemingway? Likely, as many other manuscripts have, Hemingway’s book saw many revisions and drafts. This assumption may be underscored since Hemingway is attributed with this reference to first drafts:

“The first draft of anything is shit.”(via Goodreads)

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway

Even if given the opportunity to shuffle through Hemingway’s work, both unfinished and finished, a full record of every revision he made from one project to the next was kept so would there be time enough to look through it all? But how or why would someone like Hemingway rewrite so often?

Contemplating the quote above, it isn’t too surprising for most great writers, including Hemingway, to experience little, if any, grief in killing their darlings or sacrificing their first-born to the fires of revisions and rewrites in order to support the truth of the story.

I learned this lesson the hard way writing my first draft. I believed so deeply in my story and the words flowed so fast and furiously that nothing could keep this from being the first manuscript to pass muster with the first draft. Was I ever wrong! My story was boring and the truth did not shine through in my first draft. It was, in a word, shitty!

Lesson Learned: Do not be concerned about writing the perfect first draft. Allow the mind to tell the fingers what to type to just get  your thoughts on paper. Refining the telling of your story comes later — with rewriting.

Tip 2: “Never Look Back”

Before beginning the process of rewriting, I did a little research on the dreaded rewrite. A great deal can be found in blog archives on the topic. A plethora of advice rendered by editors, teachers, authors, and publishers. How to know who is right looms as the big question on the horizon.

Not too long ago I read a post by Michelle Gagnon, an author with several successful crime fiction novels as well as a YA dystopian thriller. Michelle also writes with James Scott Bell, award-winning suspense author and bestselling writing coach, on Bell’s blog, Kill Zone. No, I am not taking you on a wild goose chase; these people are good at what they do and in offering solid writing advice.

Reading Michelle’s post pointed out one thing I had done wrong during the first drafting of my manuscript: I looked back. Quoting Michelle is the best way to share her thoughts on this tip:

In my opinion what separates published authors from people who have been working on a book for years without completing it is this: never look back. I don’t start editing–at all–until the entire book is written. A lot of people get fifty pages in, then go back and start editing chapter one. The danger in this is that while you might end up with a perfect first fifty pages, by the time you finish those there’s a good chance you’ve lost the thread of the story.

It’s also discouraging to suddenly realize you’ve spent three months on fifty pages, and another three hundred and fifty remain to be written (of course, that’s discouraging whether you’ve stopped or not–I call it the “interminable middle”). I never even re-read what I’ve written until I’ve finished the first draft. (I also spend most of that draft thinking that what I’m writing is the worst junk ever committed to page. But I forge ahead, because I know the next draft will be better.) And then when I do go back, the bones of the story are in place.

Lesson Learned: Never look back!

Tip 3: Write, Wait, Edit

Via Pixabay
Via Pixabay

During my time writing this blog, I have met many writers, many of whom have published their memoirs. I consider many of them mentors in guiding me down the path of writing my truth and protecting family members and myself while considering publishing options.

One of my memoir writing mentors is Madeline Sharples who blogs at Choices. A little less than a year ago Madeline posted a blog on the topic of “My Memoir Revision Process,” and as soon as I read it, I clipped it into my Evernote files under “revision process.”

It was in Madeline’s post I learned to WAIT before editing. I am inherently an impatient person wanting things to be completed quickly and done now. Waiting is hard for me. But I knew if Madeline could wait, then I should try. Here’s what Madeline says about waiting:

Leave your work alone for as long a time as you can before sitting down to edit it. While I spent over two years querying agents and small presses, my manuscript laid dormant. So when I finally got my book contract, I read it front to back, chapter by chapter, with my revision plan in hand. I marked up a hard copy with a red pen. Also I made no electronic changes to any part of my manuscript until I completed this first round of edits. And surprise, surprise, I found lots of things to edit, including typos, awkward sentences, repetition, and inconsistencies. Unbelievable! After all the times I had gone over it! During this first edit pass, I also looked for places to insert the new material necessary to my story and where I needed to update material that was clearly out of date.

I did not wait two years while querying agents and small presses, primarily because my mind has not reached a decision about the publishing process or even if I publish. Whether I publish or not, I want to complete this process just as I would if publishing.

Also, I initially chose not to print out the manuscript and instead to edit on-screen. Don’t do that! So much can be missed as the edited manuscript on-screen quickly becomes confusing, especially if you are inclined to using a marking tool. Working with a paper draft, red pen and a highlighter in hand, seems to flow much more smoothly for me. Thanks to Madeline for posting her revision process.

Lesson Learned: Follow the instructions provided by those you call mentor and friend–and wait.

Today I’ve covered three tips in a rather lengthy post. And I have more to share with you in Part 2 next week.

What about rewriting or revising the first draft would you like to share with other writers? Part of our reason for being online is to support and encourage one another. Your thoughts are welcome in the comment section below.