A Kansas City Star Best Book of the Year
"Brilliant, meditative, and full of surprises, wisdom, and wonder."—Ann Lamott, author of Imperfect Birds
"I am leaving you all my journals, but you must promise me you won't look at them until after I'm gone." This is what Terry Tempest Williams's mother, the matriarch of a large Mormon clan in northern Utah, told her a week before she died. It was a shock to Williams to discover that her mother had kept journals. But not as much of a shock as it was to discover that the three shelves of journals were all blank. In fifty-four short chapters, Williams recounts memories of her mother, ponders her own faith, and contemplates the notion of absence and presence art and in our world.
When Women Were Birds is a carefully crafted kaleidoscope that keeps turning around the question: What does it mean to have a voice?
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|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|File size:||456 KB|
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.
Terry Tempest Williams is the award-winning author of The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks; Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place; Finding Beauty in a Broken World; and When Women Were Birds, among other books. Her work is widely taught and anthologized around the world. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she is currently the Writer-in-Residence at the Harvard Divinity School and divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts and Castle Valley, Utah.
Read an Excerpt
When Women Were BirdsFifty-four Variations on Voice
By Terry Tempest Williams
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2012 Terry Tempest Williams
All right reserved.
WHEN WOMEN WERE BIRDS (Chapter 1)
I AM FIFTY-FOUR YEARS OLD, the age my mother was when she died. This is what I remember: We were lying on her bed with a mohair blanket covering us. I was rubbing her back, feeling each vertebra with my fingers as a rung on a ladder. It was January, and the ruthless clamp of cold bore down on us outside. Yet inside, Mother's tenderness and clarity of mind carried its own warmth. She was dying in thesame way she was living, consciously.
"I am leaving you all my journals," she said, facing the shuttered window as I continued rubbing her back. "But you must promise me that you will not look at them until after I am gone."
I gave her my word. And then she told me where theywere. I didn't know my mother kept journals.
A week later she died. That night, there was a full moon encircled by ice crystals.
On the next full moon I found myself alone in the family home. I kept expecting Mother to appear. Her absence became her presence. It was the right time to read her journals. They were exactly where she said they would be: three shelves of beautiful clothbound books; some floral, some paisley, others in solid colors. The spines of each were perfectly aligned against the lip of the shelves. I opened the first journal. It was empty. I opened the second journal. It was empty. I opened the third. It, too, was empty, as was the fourth, the fifth, the sixth--shelf after shelf after shelf, all my mother's journals were blank.
WHEN WOMEN WERE BIRDS Copyright 2012 by Terry Tempest Williams
Excerpted from When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams Copyright © 2012 by Terry Tempest Williams. Excerpted by permission.
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Reading Group Guide
Terry Tempest Williams's unconventional, beloved memoir Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place paid homage to Williams's mother, who developed cancer as a result of nuclear testing in nearby Nevada. Her mother told her, "I am leaving you all my journals. But you must promise me that you will not look at them until after I am gone." Williams easily found the three shelves of beautiful cloth-bound diaries, but she soon discovered that all the books were blank. A stirring meditation on the messages conveyed in those seemingly empty pages, When Women Were Birds explores the shaping of a life through fifty-four precisely honed chapters, each with its own unique wisdom. Through evocative scenes, captured in lyrical words, Williams has created a work that startles and illuminates.
The discussion topics that follow are designed to enhance your reading group's experience of When Women Were Birds. We hope they will enrich your journey.