I am a bit embarrassed to say this is the first Maya Angelou book I have ever read. I am so thankful to be introduced to her works via Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf book club. This memoir is moving, powerful, and heartbreaking— Maya Angelou writes beautifully, and I loved everything about this book.
Mom & Me & Mom is Maya Angelou’s 7th and final autobiography. For the first time in her books, Angelou addresses the relationship she had with her biological mother, Vivian Baxter. Abandoned by her mother prior to the age of 13, Angelou’s relationship to Baxter will obviously be complex. I wasn’t expecting a full transition from resentment and distrust to unconditional love and acceptance between both women through these pages. But it happened. And it was gorgeous.
I adore the exploration of mother/daughter relationships. Honestly, I don’t feel like they are explored enough in literature; fiction or non-fiction. Listening to Angelou describe the complex emotions she felt and dissect them in such an open way was powerful. I felt like I was in a room with her discussing these situations face to face. It felt like a confession. Angelou’s honesty is refreshing and startling. Her stories are direct and to the point. Reading these pages, I felt as though I was reading a love story rather than a memoir.
Love heals. Heals and liberates. I use the word love not meaning sentimentality, but a condition so strong that it may be that which holds the stars in their heavenly positions and that which causes the blood to flow orderly in our veins.
Vivian Baxter the woman is quite formidable. She is a woman who knows herself completely. Unwavering in her beliefs, she refused to step down to any situation. When Angelou was reunited with her mother at age twelve, she was resistant and angry. Angelou only called her mother “Lady”. As the years passed, Angelou learned why her mother had abandoned her and began to warm to her woman. When Angelou became pregnant at age seventeen and wanted to keep the child, Baxter supported her. Helping her daughter through the birth, Angelou transitioned to calling Baxter “Mother” and eventually even “Mom”. While, Baxter would never become a maternal figure in the traditional sense, but eventually the bond these two women would share would be unbreakable.
The rest of the memoir provides a series of anecdotes about how Baxter and Angelou’s relationship deepened as they both were mothers. Their relationship was arduous, yet highly rewarding. Both women have plenty of fight, determination, and hope. Watching them go through their life struggles, it’s obvious to the outside observer that both women needed each other. It’s certain that Angelou wouldn’t be where she is today without Baxter. And it is likely true of the opposite as well.
My mother’s gifts of courage to me were both large and small. The latter are woven so subtly into the fabric of my psyche that I can hardly distinguish where she stops and I begin.
Overall, the biggest criticism of Mom & Me & Mom I have read is that many of these stories have been told before in her previous autobiographies. Having never read other Angelou books, I cannot speak to this. However, I imagine that these stories have a different twist on them now that we are focusing on her relationship with Vivian Baxter, rather than Angelou herself. After all, can you imagine having enough interesting life stories to fill 7 fill length books? I know I am certainly not that interesting. But, who is to say, really? What I do know is that I believe Baxter passed on without Angelou truly understanding everything her mother had to offer— and that’s saying something.
A simply written autobiography, Mom & Me & Mom is a touching and powerful memoir; an emotional minefield Angelou traverses with grace. I strongly recommend this to lovers of memoirs, mother/daughter relationships, and Maya Angelou’s works.
What do you think?
- Have you read any of Maya Angelou’s autobiographies? Which ones? Did you enjoy them?
- Do you believe mother/daughter relationships are underexplored in literature? Why or why not?
- What sort of relationship do you have with your mother? Why do you believe it is like that?