When Michele Filgate, the editor of What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About, wrote an essay about her stepfather’s abuse, she revealed the fracture that the abuse caused between her mother and her. The essay went viral and Filgate realized that there was much to be learned about what happens in the intimate bond between mother and child when things go unsaid. Filgate gathered 15 writers to explore the topic. Some of the essays are hilarious; others heartbreaking; but there is such strength and resilience in this collection. I kept recalling Leonard Cohen’s line, “There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”
ONE OF NPR’S BEST BOOKS OF 2019
*Most Anticipated Reads of 2019 by Publishers Weekly, BuzzFeed, The Rumpus, Lit Hub, The Week, and Elle.com*
Fifteen brilliant writers explore what we don’t talk to our mothers about, and how it affects us, for better or for worse.
As an undergraduate, Michele Filgate started writing an essay about being abused by her stepfather. It took her more than a decade to realize what she was actually trying to write: how this affected her relationship with her mother. When it was finally published, the essay went viral, shared on social media by Anne Lamott, Rebecca Solnit, and many others. The outpouring of responses gave Filgate an idea, and the resulting anthology offers a candid look at our relationships with our mothers.
While some of the writers in this book are estranged from their mothers, others are extremely close. Leslie Jamison writes about trying to discover who her seemingly perfect mother was before ever becoming a mom. In Cathi Hanauer’s hilarious piece, she finally gets a chance to have a conversation with her mother that isn’t interrupted by her domineering (but lovable) father. André Aciman writes about what it was like to have a deaf mother. Melissa Febos uses mythology as a lens to look at her close-knit relationship with her psychotherapist mother. And Julianna Baggott talks about having a mom who tells her everything.
As Filgate writes, “Our mothers are our first homes, and that’s why we’re always trying to return to them.” There’s relief in breaking the silence. Acknowledging what we couldn’t say for so long is one way to heal our relationships with others and, perhaps most important, with ourselves.
Contributors include Cathi Hanauer, Melissa Febos, Alexander Chee, Dylan Landis, Bernice L. McFadden, Julianna Baggott, Lynn Steger Strong, Kiese Laymon, Carmen Maria Machado, André Aciman, Sari Botton, Nayomi Munaweera, Brandon Taylor, and Leslie Jamison.
About the Author
Michele Filgate’s work has appeared in Longreads; The Washington Post; the Los Angeles Times; The Boston Globe; The Paris Review Daily; Tin House; Gulf Coast; O, The Oprah Magazine; BuzzFeed; Refinery29; and many other publications. Currently, she is an MFA student at NYU, where she is the recipient of the Stein Fellowship. She’s a contributing editor at Literary Hub and teaches at the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop and Catapult. What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About is her first book.
“These essays, each one exceptional on its own, encompass both love and writing at their most vulnerable, and could power entire cities with their electricity.”--Booklist, starred review
"Fifteen essayists—many luminaries—write unflinchingly about their mothers...Each one of these intimate and gut-wrenching essays reaches beyond itself to forge connections with readers."--Kirkus Reviews,starred review
"The essays all address the authors' relationships with their mothers in stories to be savored but not necessarily read in one sitting. …beautifully composed."--Library Journal, starred review
"A fascinating set of reflections on what it is like to be a son or daughter… the range of stories and styles represented in this collection makes for rich and rewarding reading."--Publishers Weekly
"These are the hardest stories in the world to tell, but they are told with absolute grace. You will devour these beautifully written—and very important— tales of honesty, pain, and resilience.”--Elizabeth Gilbert, New York Times bestselling author of Eat Pray Love
"By turns raw, tender, bold and wise, the essays in this anthology explore writers’ relationships with their mothers. Kudos to Michele Filgate for this riveting contribution to a vital conversation.”--Claire Messud, bestselling author of The Burning Girl
"Fifteen literary luminaries, including Filgate herself, probe how silence is never even remotely golden until it is mined for the haunting truths that lie within our most primal relationships-with our mothers. Unsettling, brave, sometimes hilarious and sometimes scorching enough to wreck your heart, these essays, about love or the terrifying lack of it, don’t just smash the silence; they let the light in, bearing witness with grace, understanding and writing so gorgeous you’ll be memorizing lines."--Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow and Pictures of You
“This collection of storytelling constellated around mothers and silence will break your heart and then gently give it back to you stitched together with what we carry in our bodies our whole lives.”--Lidia Yuknavitch, national bestselling author of The Misfit's Manifesto
"This is a rare collection that has the power to break silences. I am in awe of the talent Filgate has assembled here; each of these fifteen heavyweight writers offer a truly profound argument for why words matter, and why unspoken words may matter even more."--Garrard Conley, New York Times bestselling author of Boy Erased
"Who better to discuss one of our greatest shared surrialities -- that we are all, once and forever, for better or worse, someone's child -- than this murderer's row of writers? The mothers in this collection are terrible, wonderful, flawed, human, tragic, triumphant, complex, simple, baffling, supportive, deranged, heartbreaking and heartbroken. Sometimes all at once. I'll be thinking about this book, and stewing over it, and teaching from it, for a long time."--Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers