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Mom & Me & Mom

Cover of Mom & Me & Mom

Mom & Me & Mom

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The story of Maya Angelou's extraordinary life has been chronicled in her multiple bestselling autobiographies. But now, at last, the legendary author shares the deepest personal story of her life: her relationship with her mother.

For the first time, Angelou reveals the triumphs and struggles of being the daughter of Vivian Baxter, an indomitable spirit whose petite size belied her larger-than-life presence--a presence absent during much of Angelou's early life. When her marriage began to crumble, Vivian famously sent three-year-old Maya and her older brother away from their California home to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. The subsequent feelings of abandonment stayed with Angelou for years, but their reunion, a decade later, began a story that has never before been told. In Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou dramatizes her years reconciling with the mother she preferred to simply call "Lady," revealing the profound moments that shifted the balance of love and respect between them.

Delving into one of her life's most rich, rewarding, and fraught relationships, Mom & Me & Mom explores the healing and love that evolved between the two women over the course of their lives, the love that fostered Maya Angelou's rise from immeasurable depths to reach impossible heights.

Praise for Maya Angelou

"Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written and exceptional autobiographical narrative. . . . A beautiful book--an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time."--Kirkus Reviews, on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

"Angelou is one of the geniuses of Afro-American serial autobiography."--The New York Times

"To say that Angelou is a living legend is in no way an exaggeration. [She is] one of the great voices of contemporary literature."--The Voice

"Maya Angelou regards the world and herself with intelligence and wit; she records the events of her life with style and grace."--The Washington Post Book World

"A book to give to one's daughter, mother, son or father, but definitely one to be read and savored."--The Baltimore Sun, on Letter to My Daughter

The story of Maya Angelou's extraordinary life has been chronicled in her multiple bestselling autobiographies. But now, at last, the legendary author shares the deepest personal story of her life: her relationship with her mother.

For the first time, Angelou reveals the triumphs and struggles of being the daughter of Vivian Baxter, an indomitable spirit whose petite size belied her larger-than-life presence--a presence absent during much of Angelou's early life. When her marriage began to crumble, Vivian famously sent three-year-old Maya and her older brother away from their California home to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. The subsequent feelings of abandonment stayed with Angelou for years, but their reunion, a decade later, began a story that has never before been told. In Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou dramatizes her years reconciling with the mother she preferred to simply call "Lady," revealing the profound moments that shifted the balance of love and respect between them.

Delving into one of her life's most rich, rewarding, and fraught relationships, Mom & Me & Mom explores the healing and love that evolved between the two women over the course of their lives, the love that fostered Maya Angelou's rise from immeasurable depths to reach impossible heights.

Praise for Maya Angelou

"Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written and exceptional autobiographical narrative. . . . A beautiful book--an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time."--Kirkus Reviews, on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

"Angelou is one of the geniuses of Afro-American serial autobiography."--The New York Times

"To say that Angelou is a living legend is in no way an exaggeration. [She is] one of the great voices of contemporary literature."--The Voice

"Maya Angelou regards the world and herself with intelligence and wit; she records the events of her life with style and grace."--The Washington Post Book World

"A book to give to one's daughter, mother, son or father, but definitely one to be read and savored."--The Baltimore Sun, on Letter to My Daughter

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    1

    The first decade of the twentieth century was not a great time to be born black and poor and female in St. Louis, Missouri, but Vivian Baxter was born black and poor, to black and poor parents. Later she would grow up and be called beautiful. As a grown woman she would be known as the butter-colored lady with the blowback hair.

    Her father, a Trinidadian with a heavy Caribbean accent, had jumped from a banana boat in Tampa, Florida, and evaded immigration agents successfully all his life. He spoke often and loudly with pride at being an American citizen. No one explained to him that simply wanting to be a citizen was not enough to make him one.

    Contrasting with her father's dark chocolate complexion, her mother was light-colored enough to pass for white. She was called an octoroon, meaning that she had one-eighth Negro blood. Her hair was long and straight. At the kitchen table, she amused her children by whirling her braids like ropes and then later sitting on them.

    Although Vivian's mother's people were Irish, she had been raised by German adoptive parents, and she spoke with a decided German accent.

    Vivian was the firstborn of the Baxter children. Her sister Leah was next, followed by brothers Tootie, Cladwell, Tommy, and Billy.

    As they grew, their father made violence a part of their inheritance. He said often, "If you get in jail for theft or burglary, I will let you rot. But if you are charged with fighting, I will sell your mother to get your bail."

    The family became known as the "Bad Baxters." If someone angered any of them, they would track the offender to his street or to his saloon. The brothers (armed) would enter the bar. They would station themselves at the door, at the ends of the bar, and at the toilets. Uncle Cladwell would grab a wooden chair and break it, handing Vivian a piece of the chair.

    He would say, "Vivian, go kick that bastard's ass."

    Vivian would ask, "Which one?"

    Then she would take the wooden weapon and use it to beat the offender.

    When her brothers said, "That's enough," the Baxter gang would gather their violence and quit the scene, leaving their mean reputation in the air. At home they told their fighting stories often and with great relish.

    Grandmother Baxter played piano in the Baptist church and she liked to hear her children sing spiritual gospel songs. She would fill a cooler with Budweiser and stack bricks of ice cream in the refrigerator.

    The same rough Baxter men led by their fierce older sister would harmonize in the kitchen on "Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross":

    There a precious fountain

    Free to all, a healing stream,

    Flows from Calvary's mountain.

    The Baxters were proud of their ability to sing. Uncle Tommy and Uncle Tootie had bass voices; Uncle Cladwell, Uncle Ira, and Uncle Billy were tenors; Vivian sang alto; and Aunt Leah sang a high soprano (the family said she also had a sweet tremolo). Many years later, I heard them often, when my father, Bailey Johnson Sr., took me and my brother, called Junior, to stay with the Baxters in St. Louis. They were proud to be loud and on key. Neighbors often dropped in and joined the songfest, each trying to sing loudest.

    Vivian's father always wanted to hear about the rough games his sons played. He would listen eagerly, but if their games ended without a fight or at least a scuffle, he would blow air through his teeth and say, "That's little boys' play. Don't waste my time with silly tales."

    Then he would tell Vivian, "Bibbi, these boys are too big to play little girls' games. Don't let them grow up to be women."

    Vivian took his instruction seriously. She...

About the Author-
  • Maya Angelou was raised in Stamps, Arkansas. In addition to her bestselling autobiographies, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Heart of a Woman, she wrote numerous volumes of poetry, among them Phenomenal Woman, And Still I Rise, On the Pulse of Morning, and Mother. Maya Angelou died in 2014.


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