Essex Books Presents Shelf Awareness: On Motherhood

On Motherhood: Personal Essays on Mothering (or Not)

When her mother died, Terry Tempest Williams inherited her 54 blank journals. Williams's attempt to understand that blankness forms the core of her poetic, philosophical collection of personal essays, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Ruminations on Voice. As her desire to understand her own mother kaleidoscopes inward and outward, Williams explores her own experience in the context of what it means to be a mother, a daughter and a woman.

Margaux Bergen's Navigating Life: Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me offers her daughter a guide to that womanhood. Framed as a letter penned to her daughter, the book is ostensibly a collection of life advice. Bergen's suggestions, however, like Williams's writing, veer into personal recollection and ruminations on what it means to be a mother (and daughter) in modern times.

Maya Angelou, too, framed personal essays as a letter to her (fictional) daughter. "I gave birth to one child, a son," she writes in the introduction to Letter to My Daughter, "but I have thousands of daughters... and I am speaking to you all." Within this framework, she builds a collection of moving essays on her childhood, on bravery and fear, on friendship and food and all the makings of a life well lived.

Reflections on motherhood, of course, don't start and end with the decision to have children, as evidenced by Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed. Here, 16 writers (mostly women, but some men) write with heart about their decisions not to have children--and about the taboo that still surrounds such a decision.

Whatever your Mother's Day celebrations may look like this year, consider including one--or several--of these personal reflections on motherhood in your day.

Written by Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm



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