Sarah Gillespie Huftalen led an unconventional life for a rural midwestern woman of her time. Born in 1865 near Manchester, Iowa, she was a farm girl who became a highly regarded country school and college teacher; she married a man older than either of her parents, received a college degree later in life, and was committed to both family and career. A gifted writer, she crafted essays, teacher-training guides, and poetry while continuing to write lengthy, introspective entries in her diary, which spans the years from 1873 to 1952. In addition, she gathered extensive information about the quietly tragic life of her mother, Emily, and worked to preserve Emily's own detailed diary.
In more than 3,500 pages, Sarah writes about her multiple roles as daughter, sister, wife, teacher, family historian, and public figure. Her diary reflects the process by which she was socialized into these roles and her growing consciousness of the ways in which these roles intersected. Not only does her diary embody the diverse strategies used by one woman to chart her life's course and to preserve her life's story for future generations, it also offers ample evidence of the diary as a primary form of private autobiography for individuals whose lives do not lend themselves to traditional definitions of autobiography.
Taken together, Emily's and Sarah's extraordinary diaries span nearly a century and thus form a unique mother/daughter chronicle of daily work and thoughts, interactions with neighbors and friends and colleagues, and the destructive family dynamics that dominated the Gillespies. Sarah's consciousness of the abusive relationship between her mother and father haunts her diary, and this dramatic relationship is duplicated in Sarah's relationship with her brother, Henry, Suzanne Bunkers' skillful editing and analysis of Sarah's diary reveal the legacy of a caring, loving mother reflected in her daughter's work as family member, teacher, and citizen.
The rich entries in Sarah Gillespie Huftalen's diary offer us brilliant insights into the importance of female kinship networks in American life, the valued status of many women as family chroniclers, and the fine art of selecting, piecing, stitching, and quilting that characterizes the many shapes of women's autobiographies. Read Sarah's dairy to discover why "all will yet be well."
“It all began with the bite of a mosquito. Yes, with a bite of this pesky, but seemingly so innocuous little insect that had been sucking her blood. Not just one, but hundreds had punctured her arms and legs with red marks which later swelled to small welts. Who would ever have thought that our family's life would become derailed, that its tightly woven fabric would eventually fray and break—all from the bite of a mosquito?”
In November of 1970, the Finell family’s lives were changed forever by a family vacation to Acapulco. Seven-year-old Stephanie fell ill soon after their return to the United States, but her mother, Karin, thinking it was an intestinal disorder, kept her home from school for a few days. She was completely unprepared when Stephanie went into violent convulsions on a Friday morning. Following a series of tests at the hospital, doctors concluded she had contracted viral equine encephalitis while in Mexico.
After a string of massive seizures—one leading to cardiac arrest—Stephanie fell into a six-week coma. When she awoke, her world had changed from predictable and comforting to one where the ground was shaking. Due to the swelling of her brain from encephalitis, she suffered serious brain damage. Doctors saw little hope of recovery for Stephanie and encouraged her parents to place her in an institution, but they refused.
In Broken Butterfly, Karin Finell recounts the struggles faced by both her and her daughter, as well as the small victories won over the ensuing years. Little was known about brain injuries during that time, and Karin was forced to improvise, relying on her instincts, to treat Stephanie. Despite the toll on the family—alcoholism, divorce, and estrangement—Karin never gave up hope for Stephanie’s recovery. By chance, Karin heard of the Marianne Frostig Center of Educational Therapy, where Dr. Frostig herself took over the “reprogramming” of Stephanie’s brain. This, in time, led her to regain her speech and some motor skills.
Unfortunately, Stephanie’s intermittent seizures hung like the proverbial “Sword of Damocles” over their lives. And while Stephanie grew into a lovely young woman, her lack of judgment resulting from her injury led her into situations of great danger that required Karin to rescue her.
Karin’s love for her daughter guided her to allow Stephanie to fill her life with as many positive experiences as possible. Stephanie learned and matured through travel and exposure to music and plays,acquiring a knowledge she could not learn from books.
Stephanie wished above all to teach other brain injured individuals to never look down on themselves but to live their lives to the fullest. Through Stephanie’s story, her mother has found a way to share that optimism and her lessons with the world.
Even before Nancy McCabe and her daughter, Sophie, left for China, it was clear that, as the mother of an adopted child from China, McCabe would be seeing the country as a tourist while her daughter, who was seeing the place for the first time in her memory, was “going home.” Part travelogue, part memoir, Crossing the Blue Willow Bridge immerses readers in an absorbing and intimate exploration of place and its influence on the meaning of family.
A sequel to Meeting Sophie, which tells McCabe’s story of adopting Sophie as a single woman, Crossing the Blue Willow Bridge picks up a decade later with a much different Sophie—a ten-year-old with braces who wears black nail polish, sneaks eyeliner, wears clothing decorated with skulls, and has mixed feelings about being one of the few non-white children in the little Pennsylvania town where they live. Since she was young, Sophie had felt a closeness to the country of her birth and held it in an idealized light. At ten, she began referring to herself as Asian instead of Asian-American. It was McCabe’s hope that visiting China would “help her become comfortable with both sides of the hyphen, figure out how to be both Chinese and American, together.”
As an adoptive parent of a foreign-born child, McCabe knows that homeland visits are an important rite of passage to help children make sense of the multiple strands of their heritage, create their own hybrid traditions, and find their particular place in the world. Yet McCabe, still reeling from her mother’s recent death, wonders how she can give any part of Sophie back to her homeland. She hopes that Sophie will find affirmation and connection in China, even as she sees firsthand some of the realities of China—overpopulation, pollution, and an oppressive government—but also worries about what that will mean for their relationship.
Throughout their journey on a tour for adopted children, mother and daughter experience China very differently. New tensions and challenges emerge, illuminating how closely intertwined place is with sense of self. As the pair learn to understand each other, they lay the groundwork for visiting Sophie’s orphanage and birth village, life-changing experiences for them both.
In her new collection of poetry, Crossing the Ladder of Sun, Laura Apol explores the ordinary moments of life—watching her daughter, picking blueberries, sharing confidences with friends, arriving and leaving, and driving, always driving—and transforms them into the extraordinary. This book is rich with the lyrical found in what is considered the mundane as it portrays the multiple roles of a woman’s life—mother, daughter, lover, ex-wife, friend. Apol’s highly personal poems reflect a caring and compassion that transcends loneliness and heartache.
Doña Barbara: A Novel
Rómulo Gallegos University of Chicago Press, 2012 Library of Congress PQ8549.G24D613 2012 | Dewey Decimal 863.62
Rómulo Gallegos is best known for being Venezuela’s first democratically elected president. But in his native land he is equally famous as a writer responsible for one of Venezuela’s literary treasures, the novel Doña Barbara. Published in 1929 and all but forgotten by Anglophone readers, Doña Barbara is one of the first examples of magical realism, laying the groundwork for later authors such as Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa.
Following the epic struggle between two cousins for an estate in Venezuela, Doña Barbara is an examination of the conflict between town and country, violence and intellect, male and female. Doña Barbara is a beautiful and mysterious woman—rumored to be a witch—with a ferocious power over men. When her cousin Santos Luzardo returns to the plains in order to reclaim his land and cattle, he reluctantly faces off against Doña Barbara, and their battle becomes simultaneously one of violence and seduction. All of the action is set against the stunning backdrop of the Venezuelan prairie, described in loving detail. Gallegos’s plains are filled with dangerous ranchers, intrepid cowboys, and damsels in distress, all broadly and vividly drawn. A masterful novel with an important role in the inception of magical realism, Doña Barbara is a suspenseful tale that blends fantasy, adventure, and romance.
Hailed as “the Bovary of the llano” by Larry McMurtry in his new foreword to this book, Doña Barbarais a magnetic and memorable heroine, who has inspired numerous adaptations on the big and small screens, including a recent television show that aired on Telemundo.
Edna Ferber University of Illinois Press, 1917 Library of Congress PS3511.E46F47 2001 | Dewey Decimal 813.52
Heralded by one reviewer as "the most serious, extended and dignified of [Edna] Ferber's books," Fanny Herself is the intensely personal chronicle of a young girl growing up Jewish in a small midwestern town. Packed with the warmth and the wry, sidelong wit that made Ferber one of the best-loved writers of her time, the novel charts Fanny's emotional growth through her relationship with her mother, the shrewd, sympathetic Molly Brandeis.
"You could not have lived a week in Winnebago without being aware of Mrs. Brandeis," Ferber begins, and likewise the story of Fanny Brandeis is inextricable from that of her vigorous, enterprising mother. Molly Brandeis is the owner and operator of Brandeis' Bazaar, a modest general store left to her by her idealistic, commercially inept late husband. As Fanny strives to carve out her own sense of herself, Molly becomes the standard by which she measures her intellectual and spiritual progress.
Fanny's ambivalent feelings about being Jewish, her self-deprecating attitude toward her gift for sketching and drawing, and her inspired success as a businesswoman all contribute to the flesh-and-blood complexity of Ferber's youthful, eminently believable protagonist. She is accompanied on her journey by impeccably drawn characters such as Father Fitzpatrick, the Catholic priest in Winnebago; Ella Monahan, buyer for the glove department of the Haynes-Cooper mail order house; Fanny's brother, Theodore, a gifted violinist for whose musical education Molly sacrifices Fanny's future; and Clarence Heyl, the scrappy columnist who never forgot how Fanny rescued him from the school bullies.
Ferber's only work of fiction with a strong autobiographical element, Fanny Herself showcases the author's enduring interest in the capacity of strong women to transcend the limitations of their environment and control their own circumstances. Through Fanny's honest struggle with conflicting values–financial security and corporate success versus altruism and artistic integrity–Ferber grapples with some of the most deeply embedded contradictions of the American spirit.
Fever Dogs: Stories
Kim O'Neil Northwestern University Press, 2017 Library of Congress PS3615.N4354F48 2017 | Dewey Decimal 813.6
Finalist, 2017 Balcones Fiction prize
Kim O’Neil’s debut collection, Fever Dogs, is a fictional biography of three generations of women. It begins at the turn of the twenty-first century with Jean, a young woman at an impasse. Romantically adrift, in a dying profession, she decides that to make herself a future, she must first make herself a past.
To deal with a violent history, Jean’s mother has violently erased it. Starting from a bare outline that includes an unspoken death, a predatory father, and a homeless stint, Jean reconstructs the life her mother, Jane, might have lived. But origin stories can never completely cover their tracks: like Jean’s story, Jane’s cannot be told apart from that of her own mother.
What follows is a set of stories spanning nearly a century in response to questions the narrator wishes she had asked her mother and to which she has disjointed answers at best. In the absence of answers, the narrator, in various points of view, invents them. As the stories progress backward in time, the footholds in fact grow fewer and the shift to fabulism greater. But in her attempt to unravel her mother's origin and her own, Jean finds that the stories she invents—like the dogs who run through them as witnesses, allies, and objects of desire—serve as well as any other in the makeshift task of authoring a life.
Mary Lee Coe Fowler was a posthumous child, born after her father, a submarine skipper in the Pacific, was lost at sea in 1943. Her mother quickly remarried into a difficult and troubled relationship, and Mary Lee’s biological father was never mentioned. It was not until her mother died and Mary Lee was a middle-aged adult that she set out to learn not only who her father was, but what happened to him and his crew, and why—and also to confront why she had shied away from asking these questions until it was nearly too late.
Fowler searched through old ships’ logs, letters, and naval communiqués; visited submarine museums, the Naval Academy, and other pertinent sites; interviewed old friends and crew members who knew her dad and mom or served concurrently; and slowly reconstructed the world in which they lived. Beautifully written, Fowler’s memoir reveals what she eventually learned: of the perils and harships of submarine service in wartime, of the tragic irony of how her father’s sub was probably lost, and of the long-term damage experienced by the families of those who do not come home from war.
The Gift: A Novel
Florence Noiville Northwestern University Press, 2012 Library of Congress PQ2714.O48D6613 2012 | Dewey Decimal 843.92
This moving fictional memoir begins as a woman heads home after a meeting regarding her inheritance. Rebeling against the legalese uttered by the attorney, her mind drifts back to her childhood and she sees her life with sudden clarity. On the train, she jots down a few notes, which prompt the poetic outpouring of memory and emotion that make up this delicate novel.
The narrator’s mother looms large in her psyche. Labeled “eccentric” or “Italian,” her mother in fact suffered from what was later found to be manic depression. Without understanding the disease, the family treated the unpredictable ups and downs of her condition as they struck. During periods of paralyzing depression she was hospitalized, and the family felt abandoned. During periods of manic productivity and overdrive, she was a dedicated pharmacist, an exemplary homemaker, and an unusually knowledgeable gardener.
This sparse novel draws the portrait of a grand and unforgettable lady, loving and unable to love at once. Her bequest is as much a material one as it is an emotional one, and, the author surmises as she glances at her own daughters, a genetic one.
These ten magical stories are primarily set in Pittsburgh-area river towns, where Italian American women and girls draw from their culture and folklore to bring life and a sense of wonder to a seemingly barren region of the Rust Belt. Each story catapults the ordinary into something original and unpredictable.
A skeptical journalist scopes out the bar where the town mayor, in seemingly perfect health, is drinking with his buddies and celebrating what he claims is the last day of his life. A woman donates her dead mother’s clothes to a thrift shop but learns that their destiny is not what she expected. A ten-year-old girl wrestles with the facts of life as she watches her neighbor struggle to get pregnant while her teenage sister finds it all too easy. A high school girl hallucinates in a steamy hospital laundry room and discovers she can see her coworkers’ futures. A developer’s wrecking ball is no match for the legend of Giovanna’s green thumb in the title story “Giovanna’s 86 Circles.”
Quirky and profound, Corso’s magical leaps uncover the everyday poetry of these women’s lives.
Finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award
Selected for “Best Short Stories of 2005” in Montserrat Review
Best Books for Regional Special Interests, selected by the American Association of School Librarians, and Best Books for General Audiences, selected by the Public Library Association
In this brave and original work, Federica Clementi focuses on the mother-daughter bond as depicted in six works by women who experienced the Holocaust, sometimes with their mothers, sometimes not. The daughters’ memoirs, which record the “all-too-human” qualities of those who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis, show that the Holocaust cannot be used to neatly segregate lives into the categories of before and after. Clementi’s discussions of differences in social status, along with the persistence of antisemitism and patriarchal structures, support this point strongly, demonstrating the tenacity of trauma—individual, familial, and collective—among Jews in twentieth-century Europe.
Imitation of Life
Fannie Hurst Duke University Press, 2004 Library of Congress PS3515.U785I46 2004 | Dewey Decimal 813.52
A bestseller in 1933, and subsequently adapted into two beloved and controversial films, Imitation of Life has played a vital role in ongoing conversations about race, femininity, and the American Dream. Bea Pullman, a white single mother, and her African American maid, Delilah Johnston, also a single mother, rear their daughters together and become business partners. Combining Bea’s business savvy with Delilah’s irresistible southern recipes, they build an Aunt Jemima-like waffle business and an international restaurant empire. Yet their public success brings them little happiness. Bea is torn between her responsibilities as a businesswoman and those of a mother; Delilah is devastated when her light-skinned daughter, Peola, moves away to pass as white. Imitation of Life struck a chord in the 1930s, and it continues to resonate powerfully today.
The author of numerous bestselling novels, a masterful short story writer, and an outspoken social activist, Fannie Hurst was a major celebrity in the first half of the twentieth century. Daniel Itzkovitz’s introduction situates Imitation of Life in its literary, biographical, and cultural contexts, addressing such topics as the debates over the novel and films, the role of Hurst’s one-time secretary and great friend Zora Neale Hurston in the novel’s development, and the response to the novel by Hurst’s friend Langston Hughes, whose one-act satire, “Limitations of Life” (which reverses the races of Bea and Delilah), played to a raucous Harlem crowd in the late 1930s. This edition brings a classic of popular American literature back into print.
Little Lost River: A Novel
Pamela Johnston University of Nevada Press, 2008 Library of Congress PS3610.O389L58 2008 | Dewey Decimal 813.6
Set in Boise, Idaho in the early 1980s, Little Lost River is the story of two young women who come together in the wake of tragedy. Cindy Morgan is still reeling from the loss of her mother when an accident leaves her boyfriend missing and presumed drowned. When Frances Rogers happens upon the accident site, she stays with Cindy until help arrives. In the aftermath of that night’s events, as Cindy faces her future with a determination often misunderstood as indifference, Frances becomes her source of both support and compassion. Cindy and Frances are determined to find their own lives unencumbered by conventional expectations, but their path to adulthood is neither easy nor clear, and the future that each girl finds is not what she expected or planned. One generation follows another, and in the end, the girls learn that life moves on its own path, that “transformation is what takes you forward. It’s the only constant thing.”
More than a delightful girls’ book, this richly annotated and illustrated edition of Little Women will instruct new and returning readers, young and old. Alcott scholar Daniel Shealy illuminates the novel’s engagement with social equality, reform movements, the Civil War, friendship, love, loss, and the central question: How does one grow up well?
Her blood is both Aryan and Aztec and runs as deep as the waters between two worlds.
Rita Magdaleno was born near Dachau shortly after World War II to a German mother and a Mexican American GI. Her family moved to Arizona in 1947, and Rita was raised with her father's traditions—but she remains at heart a child of two cultures.
This poetic memoir, recalling Magdaleno's return to the land of her birth, is an intertwining of personal and public history, bridging continents and cultures in search of family secrets. Her poems recall a mother "Marlene Dietrich pretty, / her smoky voice / & those wide Aryan / eyes that promised / never to lie," a war bride who named her child after a Hollywood movie star even before casting eyes on America. They also offer a new, intimate view of the war—and of today's reunified Germany—and show that the consequences of events played out half a century ago continue to resonate with the children of that era.
Magdaleno navigates currents of emotion that would drown less capable poets. With patience, courage, and abiding love, she draws on memories of mother and motherland to show us that healing can come in many forms.
Edited by Albert J. La Valley; Tino T. Balio, Series Editor University of Wisconsin Press, 1980 Library of Congress PN1997.M439 | Dewey Decimal 812.54
Joan Crawford forged a new and successful screen image in this powerful women's noir film; winning her an Academy Award for best actress.
Albert J. LaValley's through and insightful guide to Mildred Pierce at once tells us much about the making of this complex film, the problems and process of transferring the story to the screen, the specific and important roles of the producer, director, and set designer, and how the film relates to broad trends within the industry. It is without a doubt the most thorough treatment of this important American motion picture.
In 1868 twenty-two-year-old Mary Julia Towne left her farm in Topsfield, Massachusetts, for Chicago in search of better health and an opportunity to support herself. Soon she was teaching, first in night school and then in grammar schools, finding satisfaction and independence in this profession. Over the next fourteen years she wrote home to her mother, Julia Stone Towne; these letters and Julia's letters back to her—the only published collection of sustained correspondence between a nineteenth-century American mother and daughter—create a deep and rich world filled with the ideas, affection, advice, and comfort that each woman gave to the other. Now, more than a hundred years later, Julia and Mary Towne give us new insights into the complexities of life of women in the nineteenth century, into both the interdependence and the autonomy of mothers and daughters, and into the links between their lives and ours.
Lake Rose Davis is the only child of former hippies who settled in a small Idaho mill town in the late 1960s. Her parents' eccentric lifestyle makes Lake an outcast among the children of the town, and the unspoken tensions among the adults of her parents' social universe puzzle and disturb her. She ponders over her mother's infidelities and the mysterious resentment between her mother and her grandparents far away in St. Louis, and between her mother and her aunt, a conventional career woman relentlessly in search of love.
As a teenager, Lake joins her grandparents in Missouri and spends her youth seeking answers to her questions about the past, trying to understand the complex pattern of betrayals that shaped it. Only when she herself becomes party to a betrayal as devastating as any committed by her mother does Lake begin to understand.
Passanante writes with a keen eye for the details of behavior that reveal the yearnings and fears beneath the surface. She shows us that the path to understanding is never a smooth one, and that love is often far more complex than we can imagine. Western Literature Series.
Hisaye Yamamoto's often reprinted tale of a naive American daughter and her Japanese mother captures the essence the cultural and generational conflicts so common among immigrants and their American-born children. On the surface, "Seventeen Syllables" is the story of Rosie and her preoccupation with adolescent life. Between the lines, however, lurks the tragedy of her mother, who is trapped in a marriage of desperation. Tome's deep absorption in writing haiku causes a rift with her husband, which escalates to a tragic event that changes Rosie's life forever.
Yamamoto's disarming style matches the verbal economy of haiku, in which all meaning is contained within seventeen syllables. Her deft characterizations and her delineations of sexuality create a haunting story of a young girl's transformation from innocence to adulthood.
This casebook includes an introduction and an essay by the editor, an interview with the author, a chronology, authoritative texts of "Seventeen Syllables" (1949) and "Yoneko's Earthquake" (1951), critical essays, and a bibliography. The contributors are Charles L. Crow, Donald C. Goellnicht, Elaine H. Kim, Dorothy Ritsuko McDonald, Zenobia Baxter Mistri, Katharine Newman, Robert M. Payne, Robert T. Rolf, and Stan Yogi.
What happens when an expert on grief is faced with the slow decline of her beloved mother? Like A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis, Singing Mother Home offers the reader an inside look at the struggles of someone who is an expert” in coping with loss. Donna S. Davenport was forced to rethink the traditional academic approach to the process, which implied that the goal of grief resolution was to end the attachment to the loved one. Instead, she embarked on a personal exploration of her own anticipatory grief.
This intimate narrative forms the core of her book. It is emotionally wrenching, but it also provides hope for those going through similar experiences. Just as Davenport used her family's tradition of singing to comfort her mother, readers will be encouraged to find their own sources of comfort in family and legacy. The book concludes with two chapters describing psychological approaches to grief and recommending further reading.
This Country of Mothers
Julianna Baggott Southern Illinois University Press, 2001 Library of Congress PS3552.A339T48 2001 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
A mosaic of memories, the poems of This Country of Mothers recollect Julianna Baggott’s experiences as both mother and daughter. With wit, compassion, aggression, and anxiety, Baggott examines her maternal history. She recalls moments of creation and destruction in her life, times of elation and of desperation that mold her as both a woman and a poet. This affecting study of motherhood is framed in issues of Catholicism and of poetry itself, challenging and espousing the roles of both. Throughout her poems, Baggott’s personal experiences embrace universal themes to birth poems in a language and style that is both powerfully feminine and accessibly human.
The Water Between Us
Shara McCallum University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999 Library of Congress PS3563.C33446W38 1999 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
1998 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize winner.
The Water Between Us is a poetic examination of cultural fragmentation, and the exile's struggle to reconcile the disparate and often conflicting influences of the homeland and the adopted country. The book also centers on other kinds of physical and emotional distances: those between mothers and daughters, those created by being of mixed racial descent, and those between colonizers and the colonized. Despite these distances, or perhaps because of them, the poems affirm the need for a multilayered and cohesive sense of self. McCallum's language is precise and graceful. Drawing from Anancy tales, Greek myth, and biblical stories, the poems deftly alternate between American English and Jamaican patois, and between images both familiar and surreal.
Worthy: A Memoir
Denice Turner University of Nevada Press, 2015 Library of Congress BF575.D35T87 2015 | Dewey Decimal 818.603
Worthy is a memoir of loss and the search for acceptance. Raised in a Mormon household, Denice Turner strives to find her place in the Church, longing to be worthy of her mother’s love. When her mother dies in a suspicious house fire, Turner is forced to face the problems with the stories she inherited. Contemplating the price of worthiness, Turner grapples with the mystery of her mother’s death, seeking to understand her mother’s battle with chronic pain.
The story unfolds as Turner confronts a history that includes a Greek grandfather whose up-from-the-bootstraps legacy refuses to die, the ghosts of two suicidal uncles, and a Mormon shrink who claims to see her dead relatives. In the end, this is a memoir not just about loss, but about all of the fragile human bonds that are broken in pursuit of perfection.
Wry and extraordinarily candid, Worthy will appeal to readers interested in the dynamics of family heritage, Mormon doctrine, and the subtle corrosive costs of shame.