When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams

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It is a loving creation, showing all the musical, reflective intelligence we expect from Williams, and a lovely example of her own voice.
-Pages of Julia's Blog


The beloved author of Refuge returns with a work that explodes and startles, illuminates and celebrates

Terry Tempest Williams's mother told her: "I am leaving you all my journals, but you must promise me you won't look at them until after I'm gone."

Readers of Williams's iconic and unconventional memoir, Refuge, well remember that mother. She was one of a large Mormon clan in northern Utah who developed cancer as a result of the nuclear testing in nearby Nevada. It was a shock to Williams to discover that her mother had kept journals. But not as much of a shock as what she found when the time came to read them.

"They were exactly where she said they would be: three shelves of beautiful cloth-bound books . . . I opened the first journal. It was empty. I opened the second journal. It was empty. I opened the third. It too was empty . . . Shelf after shelf after shelf, all of my mother's journals were blank." What did Williams's mother mean by that? In fifty-four chapters that unfold like a series of yoga poses, each with its own logic and beauty, Williams creates a lyrical and caring meditation of the mystery of her mother's journals. When Women Were Birds is a kaleidoscope that keeps turning around the question "What does it mean to have a voice?"


About Terry Tempest Williams

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She is the award-winning author of Leap, An Unspoken Hunger, Refuge & most recently Red - A Desert Reader. She lives in Castle Valley, Utah. A widely recognized critic of New England art, Carl Little has published more than sixteen books and numerous articles in such journals as Art New England, Art in America, and Ornament. Tom Curry holds degrees from the University of Massachusetts and the Rhode Island School of Design. He has taught and conducted workshops at Wellesley College, Rhode Island School of Design, the Round Top Center for the Arts, the Danforth Museum School, and the Wentworth Institute. His paintings have been included in such publications as Island Journal, the Boston Globe, The New Yorker magazine, Down East, and on the cover of the book East Hope (Penguin Books, 2009). His work is in the collections of the Delaware Art Museum, the Wheaton College Art Museum, the U.S. State Department, Federal Reserve Bank, Boston Red Sox, Putnam Investments, Fidelity Investments, and General Electric. His muse, Chatto Island, of which he has produced nearly fifty paintings and pastels, represents a significant portion of his creative output.
Published April 10, 2012 by Sarah Crichton Books. 258 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Education & Reference, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for When Women Were Birds
All: 5 | Positive: 3 | Negative: 2

Globe and Mail

Below average
Reviewed by Leah Hager Cohen on May 02 2012

When Women Were Birds is a half-beguiling book that ultimately remains as abstruse as its title.

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The Seattle Times

Reviewed by Barbara McMichael on Apr 15 2012

It is an extraordinary echo chamber in which lessons about voice — passed along from mother, to daughter, and now to us — will reverberate differently in each inner ear.

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Reviewed by Liz Welch on Apr 01 2012

As Williams’sstories and insights fill in the blanks of her mother’s history, they also help her realize that the refusal to commit feelings to paper can be as powerful as any written memory.

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Pages of Julia's Blog

Reviewed by Julia on May 02 2012

It is a loving creation, showing all the musical, reflective intelligence we expect from Williams, and a lovely example of her own voice.

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Below average
Reviewed by Sheri

If you are looking for a light beach read, this is not it. If you don't like to delve into human emotions or think deep thoughts, this isn't for you either.

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