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In fifty-four short chapters, Williams recounts memories of her mother, ponders her own faith, and contemplates the notion of absence and presence art and in our world.

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When Women Were Birds is a carefully crafted kaleidoscope that keeps turning around the question: What does it mean to have a voice? As the pages accumulate, her voice grows in majesty and power until it become a full-fledged aria. Williams explores her mother's identity--woman, wife, mother, and Mormon--as she continues to honor her memory A lyrical and elliptical meditation on women, nature, family, and history.


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She cancels out isolation: Connections are woven as you sit in your chair readingbetween you and the place you live, between you and other readers, you and the writer. Without knowing how it happened, your sense of home is deepened. When Women Were Birds 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.

Nothing I've ever read has done this to me. Is this what religious people feel when they pray, I wonder? Now, 20 years later, Williams reveals another haunting facet of her family history. Williams' mother died at age Now 54 herself, Williams discloses what her mother shared one week before she died: "I am leaving you with all my journals.

Filling empty pages: A review of When Women Were Birds

Leavened with honesty and introspection, When Women Were Birds is a chapter exploration of Williams' pursuit of her own voice -- her lifelong determination to "speak the truth of our lives at all costs. Describing watershed moments in her own life, such as how a speech therapist corrected her lisp in fourth grade, she articulates each insight like the poet that she is.


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  • Williams candidly recalls anecdotes from her experiences as a daughter, granddaughter, spouse, teacher, and the mother of a recently adopted child. She devotes chapters to artists and activists who have inspired her, including painter Gustave Courbet, composer John Cage, and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Wangari Maathai. True to form, Williams stitches this patchwork of topics together using a single thread fastened to family and place.

    As she does so, she leads readers across the vivid landscape of her life -- to the California seashore, the Sawtooth Wilderness of Idaho, and of course, back to the Utah wildlands she calls home. When Women Were Birds.

    When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice

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