Life in the Slow Lane

Contemplating life, faith, words, and memories

10 Women Writers Who Ignited the Memoir Genre | Part 1 of 2 — March 5, 2015

10 Women Writers Who Ignited the Memoir Genre | Part 1 of 2

Each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.  ~ Myra Pollack Sadker, Author and Advocate for Promoting Equity in and Beyond Schools

Via National Women’s History Project
Via National Women’s History Project

The National Women’s History Project (“NWHP”) has designated March as Women’s History Month. Underlying its founding and continued progress over the last 35 years is the theme, “Writing Women Back into History.”

This year the organization’s theme for their month-long celebration is reminiscent of writing memoir: “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.”

From NWHP’s site, these words stood out:

There is a real power in hearing women’s stories, both personally and in a larger context. Remembering and recounting tales of our ancestors’ talents, sacrifices, and commitments inspires today’s generations and opens the way to the future.

The more I read the more I felt we should in some way honor women writers who have endeavored to tell their stories down through the years. At the same time, many ignited a flame that spread the interest in the memoir genre. Room doesn’t allow highlighting all of them. Here are the first five of my ten choices of women memoir writers (listed in no particular order):

Anais Nin (circa 1970)
Anais Nin (circa 1970)

Anaïs Nin (1903-1977) began keeping a journal at age 11 and continued to do so until shortly before her death. Many scholars opine Nin’s most important works are the journals. Nin wrote freely of her personal life and relationships. Some relationships were quite intimate with many prominent authors, artists, and a range of other creatives. Fifteen volumes of Nin’s diaries have been published with all but the last four in expurgated form. Nin’s writings highlight the importance of journalling.

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect. ~ Anaïs Nin

Maya Angelou, Author
Maya Angelou, Author

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) joined her talents and gifts and became a poet, a memoirist, a public speaker, dancer, singer, and actor as well as a strong supporter of the American Civil Rights Movement. Her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), was the first nonfiction best-selling work written by an African-American woman. It has been called her magnum opus. Angelou no doubt opened the door for African-American women to step through and into the literary world of our culture.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ~Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Betty Rollin (1936-  )
Betty Rollin (1936-  )

Betty Rollin (1936- ) was a TV news anchor prior to writing her first book, First You Cry. Currently, Rollin is a contributor to PBS’s Religion and Ethics News Weekly. First You Cry tells Rollin’s personal story of two bouts with breast cancer, losing a breast in 1975 and again in 1984. Her book, the first of its kind because of the personal content, was published in 1976. Rollin hoped to raise public awareness and to encourage women facing similar circumstances. First You Cry was republished in 2000 in honor of Rollin’s 25th “cancer anniversary.”

Scratch most feminists and underneath there is a woman who longs to be a sex object, the difference is that is not all she longs to be. ~Betty Rollin

Anne Frank (1929-1945)
Anne Frank (1929-1945)

Anne Frank (1929-1945), like Anais Nin and many other memoirists, kept a diary or journal. Taken from the Dutch language in which her diary was written, the book, The Diary of a Young Girl (aka The Diary of Anne Frank), was published in 1947. Anne’s diary had been retrieved and given to her father, Oscar Frank, who upon reading it said, “For me, it was a revelation. There, was revealed a completely different Anne to the child that I had lost. I had no idea of the depths of her thoughts and feelings.” Anne succumbed to typhus in Bergen-Belsen in 1945 having told her truth as she knew it during the Nazi occupation.

It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. ~Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Jeanette Walls (1960- )
Jeanette Walls (1960- )

Jeannette Walls (1960-    ), author of The Glass Castle, opened up the doors to her nomadic family and shared stories of joy and heartbreak. Growing up in a dysfunction yet charismatic family was difficult for Walls and her siblings, and her readers understood the waffling created in a child’s heart. One minute you wanted to hate her parents, and the next you found yourself mesmerized by their charisma and creativity. Walls broke down some of the walls hindering other writers to tell the truth of their stories without hesitation.

I wanted to let the world know that no one had a perfect life, that even the people who seemed to have it all had their secrets. ~ Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle

Now it’s your turn: Who stands out in your mind as an important woman in the history of the memoir genre? What about her writing do you believe ignited the surge of women writers to find interest in memoir? I look forward to reading your comments.

NOTE: The second part of this post listing the other five women memoirists I have selected will be posted on Tuesday, March 10, 2015. I hope you’ll return to see who else I have chosen.

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou | A Review — June 25, 2014

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.

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