Welcome back to our Our Shared Shelf series discussing Emma Watson’s feminist book club selections. The last book for 2016 is Mom & Me & Mom, Maya Angelou’s final autobiography, which follows Angelou’s life as framed by the evolution of the relationship between her and her mother, Vivian Baxter.
When Angelou was three years old, she and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in the wake of their parents’ divorce. About ten years later, the two now-teenagers were reunited with their mother and began living in her care once again. Angelou was resentful of her mother for abandoning her all those years ago, and refused to open up to her for quite some time. Despite this (and made clear to Angelou through the gift of foresight), Baxter acted as a pillar of love and support for her daughter from day one, the way only a mother can. Eventually, Angelou grew to recognize and rely on her mother’s strength and devotion. She learned, and later herself embodied, what it meant to be a good, loving mother, no matter the circumstance, as well as how to be a strong woman.
As a young woman in a stage of life at which I am no longer a child but am not yet a mother myself, reading this book was an important step in allowing me to see and more fully understand the mother-daughter relationship. Vivian Baxter was an exceptional woman, having constantly stood by her daughter throughout her life and being an advocate for her. But I came to realize that Vivian Baxter was not an exception, but one example of many. One example of all the exceptional women who are mothers of daughters, who fight bravely – in ways both big and small – to be seen and heard in a world that is often against them, and who teach their daughters to do the same. Angelou observes through her own experience that a mother “stands between the unknown and the known”, providing a daughter the strength and confidence that might be the final push necessary to achieve her goals and desires. This characterization of the mother’s position in a daughter’s life was particularly resonant, and made me reflect on the ways my own mom has played this role in my life, whether or not I was aware of it.
More than anything, Mom & Me & Mom was, to me, a beautiful account of the relationship between two women navigating the world together. Angelou and Baxter learned about love and life from each other, celebrated together in times of happiness, and leaned on each other in times of hardship. It was inspiring to read about these two women who, foundationally, relied on no one but themselves or each other. Like Baxter once told her daughter, “a woman needs to support herself before she asks anyone else to support her.” As a person who tends to be extremely hard on herself, this was a lesson that I felt I was learning alongside Angelou as I read her mother’s words. It’s an important lesson, not only for women, but for anyone who is their own biggest critic.
Incredibly, Mom & Me & Mom was my first ever experience reading Maya Angelou, and I feel like I have been missing out on something that would be incredibly important for my growth as a woman, and particularly, as a woman of color. Her words were not only powerful and inspirational, but also just so relatable. I flew through the book in a single day, and am eager to get my hands on more of Angelou’s work as soon as possible.
Author: Patricia Thang
Reader of books, listener of podcasts, lover of dogs. Just trying to survive my twenties.