When Women Were Birds Fifty Four Variations on Voice
Terry Tempest Williams
Sarah Crichton Books,
Memoir / Spirituality / Woman’s Studies
Rating – 4.7 out of 5 stars. A compelling read. A 2013, 37-Day Book Club Choice.
Picture this. Your mother’s dying and her last words shared with you are a surprise, a request with a caveat. She’s left you her journals, the ones you never knew she kept, but you can’t open them until she’s gone.
You think you know this woman who birthed you, raised you, taught you, instilled your core values deep inside you. You respect her last wish. You believe you will always have a part of her, her voice written, her thoughts collected on the page. You discover ‘three shelves of beautiful clothbound books; some floral, some paisley, others in solid colors.” All fifty-four are blank. She’s left it up to you to figure out what she meant, what defined her, your relationship, and yourself.
I’m not going to tell you anything more about the narrative. I want you to read it, pencil in hand, to circle the lyrical phrases that capture your attention and resonate. I think you’ll find something on almost every page, echoing sentiments you may not realize you felt or even wanted to say.
The book is labeled memoir, spirituality, and women’s studies. It’s all of them. It’s also a writing lesson from an exemplary author. It’s a philosophy, a view of our world—how and why we need to protect it and speak out for it. It’s worth reading, not once or twice, but annually, as a tribute.
The artwork is a picture I found online. It references the title, and the opening epigraph, the mystical idea of birds being “armed for action, like daughters of the spirit…On the white page with infinite margins, the space they measure is all incantation.” (St. –John Perse)
I glued a blank white, glossy photo paper onto a 5 x 7 heavy card stock. It provided a line, a horizon effect which gave me the distance I wanted to create, the effect of a bird-woman looking across emptiness, leaving open to interpretation what she sees. The white space.
I tried to locate the picture to give credit to the artist, but was unable. Perhaps, it’s a gift from some one out there listening, a slight smile on her lips.