Brandt & Hochman Agency
Published by
Farrar Straus & Giroux (April 2012)
Current material
MS: Final Edited
Original language


54 Meditations on Voice

by Williams, Terry Tempest

WHEN WOMEN WERE BIRDS is a stunning memoir, a rich natural history, and an inspirational story for all women and will urge readers to re-think their interior landscapes as well as the natural landscapes in which they live.

When Terry Tempest Williams's mother was dying, she made the author promise not to read her annual journals until she was dead. The author kept her promise, and when she finally opened the volumes she found that there was nothing written in them. This book is her attempt to learn why her mother never wrote, what she might have written, and then explores how the author found and developed her own voice. The book touches on the role of the Mormon Church, a somewhat dysfunctional family, and where the search for truth can lead.

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"So much more than a brave and luminous memoir, WHEN WOMEN WERE BIRDS is a set of blueprints for building one of America's most impassioned and audacious writers,as well as a transcript of the moment when she stepped determinedly into the full power of her own voice. At some point I realized I was reading every page twice trying to memorize each insight, each bit of hard won wisdom. Then I realized I could read it again, I could keep it on my bedside table and read it every night."

Quote: Pam Houston

Williams is shocked to discover her deceased mother’s unwritten memoirs—shelves worth of blank pages. Under such unpromising circumstances commences a kaleidoscopic celebration and palimpsest—all metaphorical clichés but apt—on finding a voice and woman’s identity beyond the silenced, selfless existence informed by children and a husband.

Review: Publishers Weekly

Each book by ecologist, activist, and writer Williams (Finding Beauty in a Broken World, 2008) is an event, so lucid, caring, spirited, and incantatory is her approach to the matrix of nature, place, culture, family, and sense of self.

Review: Booklist

“This poetic memoir continues the work Williams began in REFUGE…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.”

Review: Boston Globe

Terry Tempest Williams' WHEN WOMEN WERE BIRDS is just out in a trade paperback reprint edition from Picador and in its first week it has landed on 3 indie bestseller lists! March 2013

Quote: client

"The writing of Terry Tempest Williams is brilliant, meditative, full of surprises, wisdom, and wonder. She's one of those writers who changes people's lives by encouraging attention and a slow patient awakening."

Quote: Anne Lamott

“If you are a reader who cares about nature, wilderness, our place in nature, writing and nature, how to choose a course of action when something you care about is threatened, the lifelong search for voice, and what it means to be a woman in this world, you will have crossed paths with the work of Terry Tempest Williams…WHEN WOMEN WERE BIRDS is in many ways a thank-you letter to a mother who gave her daughter the gift of words, the gift of locating herself in the world with words and the gift of recognizing, describing, and protecting beauty in the world, using words.”

Review: Barnes & Noble Review

“Time, experience, and uncanny coincidence spiral through these pages….This is fable/memoir/ morality tale sans proscriptions. It is an extraordinary echo chamber in which lessons about voice—passed along from mother, to daughter, and now to us—will reverberate different in each inner ear.”

Review: Seattle Times

"WHEN WOMEN WERE BIRDS is a wise and beautiful and intelligent book, written for the women, men and children of our times. It vibrates with the earned honesty of a great soul. Finally, it is a gift, passed on to readers with the same spirit of love and generosity with which it was first given to the author by her mother. A remarkable journey, a remarkable story."

Quote: Rick Bass

"Somehow, miraculously, Terry Tempest Williams has done it again: written a book that no one else could have, that tells the truth about our lives. If you want to understand how a writer finds her voice, read this gorgeous book."

Quote: Sue Halpern

“Williams displays a Whitmanesque embrace of the world and its contradictions… As the pages accumulate, her voice grows in majesty and power until it become a full-fledged aria.”

Review: San Francisco Chronicle

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