This post is in honor of To Mama with Love, part of a collaborative online art project that honors moms across the globe and raises funds to invest in remarkable women who create hope in our world. Thanks to Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, who encouraged me to take part.
Mother’s Day’s a tricky one. I’m so proud to be a mother, and so in love with my children. But there’s also the hole where my own mother is supposed to be.
After raising her three daughters, my mother began taking classes in writing for children at the New School in New York. She loved everything about that class: the opportunity to help others with their stories, the teacher’s feedback on her work, time spent talking with classmates before and after.
And she was good. Really, really good. She worked very hard. And she improved. So she was gooder still.
Her teacher recognized her talent by suggesting that my mother send her first novel, The Morning Glory War, to her editor. My mother did.
She sent it to one editor. And it was accepted.
Most readers of this blog will not require further elaboration on this point.
I still remember that phone call in 1989. I was working at Emerson College in Boston. My mother couldn’t believe she had an offer on her book. I could. I wasn’t even surprised.
Looking back, I take some comfort that she had this time–that she knew her book would be published. I am particularly tickled by the memory of my mother choosing earrings that—for her—were a tiny bit daring to wear when meeting her editor. She told herself artists could get away with such things. (Reader: They were pretty tame.)
I am grateful that she had a day to listen to an editor at a lofty New York City publishing house praise her wonderful writing.
She died two months later: a sudden, wholly unexpected death. People always wonder–she was hit by a car while on the sidewalk around the block from our home in Whitestone, New York.
It happened before she even received an editorial/revision letter.
Which left that work to my family and me. While we understood the task at hand, we also wanted to leave everything intact. It broke our hearts to even entertain changing a word. Those were HER words. (The poor editor!) Somehow, we made it through that emotionally charged revision process.
All these years later, we have the book, this miraculous book, based on my mother’s childhood in Brooklyn. My children, born many years after my mother died, have read this book and know their grandmother in a way I would have never been able to convey. They know her voice. They know things about her relationship with her best friend. They have glimpses into her sense of humor, and her sense of justice. For my daughter, that book is something of a touchstone, a tangible thing to reach for when she needs it.
This week, I received the advance reading copy of my own first novel, also for middle-grade readers. That I write for children now could have probably been predicted by a sub-par therapist twenty years ago. But it still surprises me. (Reader: Early attempts did not go well.)
As I prepared to write this post, a time that coincided with the launching of this blog, I kept returning to an interesting fact: I am surrounded by echoes of my mother. My writing friends, more than any others, reflect her back at me.
How about the beloved friend who, like my mother, is an extremely talented and deeply humble writer who sold a debut middle-grade novel about coming of age in Brooklyn to the first editor she sent it to? Or the very dear friend who points out the patterns in my life and the strides I can’t see myself in the gentle, supportive way a mother would? Or the newer friends who, upon hearing my mother’s story for the first time, burst into tears and say, “Oh, but Audrey! Your mom would be so proud of you now.”
This Mother’s Day, I will be thinking of my mother’s book and of my own. I will be missing my mother, as I do every day.
We received many beautiful and touching cards in the weeks after she died. The one from her teacher at the New School touched me the most. I wasn’t as well versed in children’s literature then, so while I had read the book, I did not remember E.B. White’s quote. Her use of it, to describe my mother, brought me to my knees: “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
I would like to put copies of my mother’s book, The Morning Glory War, into the hands of interested readers. If you would like to receive one of two copies I’ll be giving away, please indicate interest in your COMMENT. Winners will be selected randomly.
Other mother/author/advocates will be joining this special celebration all week. Check out these stunning posts by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Sheela Chari, Kelly Starling Lyons, Sayantani DasGupta and look for a future posts by Jennifer Cervantes.