PENNY POWELL: What were some of their reactions to learning that a book of this sort would be born?
CECELIE BERRY: Most people thought it was a great idea. Many recognized, though, that it is extremely difficult for writers to meet their deadlines, even more so when they have children and busy careers. So I was advised to be patient.
PENNY POWELL: While each and every voice in this anthology is interesting, special and varied, is there any one story in particular that touched you in a unique or especially profound way after reading it?
CECELIE BERRY: I have read this book several times in the process of editing it and each time there is a new revelation. Different essays strike you at different times, depending on what you are going through. So if I tried to highlight a particular essay, I’d keep you all day, talking about how each one brought me to a higher understanding at a different time and in a different way.
PENNY POWELL: Did the writers have specific guidelines to follow when crafting their stories or was it a system of simply writing from the heart?
CECELIE BERRY: Initially, I followed the “writing from the heart” system, believing that a mother who writes is under such time constraints that she should speak to the issue that moves her most. Also, every mother’s story is unique, so I wasn’t worried that there would be too much overlap. But once I had 10 or 12 contributors, I began to discuss with writers more what issues they wanted to address, just to make sure that not too many people wrote about their mother, for instance. While some explorations as daughters would be appropriate, I wanted the focus of the book to be on the experience of mothering.
PENNY POWELL: Briefly tell potential readers about the meaning of each section that makes up Rise Up Singing.
CECELIE BERRY: Section I, Aria of the Matriarch, explores the spirit of female leadership in the family. In opera, the aria is sung by a female soloist, and the contributors to the section either emulate or pay tribute to the mothers and grandmothers whose courage and spirit has sustained the family in times of hardship.
Section II, Dream Song: A Mother’s Interior World, explores a mother’s inner life, her dreams and hopes for the future, her children’s and her own. It is also a tribute to the creativity of motherhood.
Section III, Torch Song for Mother and Child, plumbs the “dark side” of our experiences as mothers, the rage, disappointment and heartache.
Section IV, The Round, Rowing Gently Down the Stream, concerns how we are always changing as mothers, growing and adjusting as our children are doing the same. It is about how we take the journey together, challenging each other to reach further into the world and more deeply into our spiritual selves.
PENNY POWELL: What have some of the reactions been thus far to your book from those around you — particularly that of your sons? And your mother?
CECELIE BERRY: Generally, people’s reactions have been extremely favorable. I am grateful that people understand here that I did not attempt to pander to the lowest common denominator. The book is accessible, inspiring and informative, and, most importantly, the quality of the writing is impressive.
My sons are thrilled. They are taking copies to their principals and teachers and telling all their friends. They are the best publicity people I know.
My mother is also proud of the book, but she is from a generation where you simply did not talk about family problems publicly. At all! Ever! I think this is particularly strong in black families who felt, understandably, that the world already judged us too harshly, so why contribute to the hostility by airing dirty laundry? So this tendency to openness that I have makes her uncomfortable at
PENNY POWELL: What, in your opinion, is most common — and most different — between the 29 mothering stories told in Rise Up Singing?
CECELIE BERRY: I think that what the writers have in common is a sense of hope that the journey of motherhood will lead them to higher ground and a better future for them and their children. But what varies is the context. I think writers like Faith Ringgold, June Jordan and Maya Angelou, who became mothers in the Fifties and Sixties, see themselves more in a political and historical context. Their experience and understanding of motherhood is shaped by social movements, feminism, civil rights and integration. Baby-boom and Generation-X writers like Dawn Turner Trice, the Chicago Tribune columnist, and Bethany Allen of Africana.com, meditate more on their personal experience, with the social climate informing their experience, but not shaping it nearly as much. A generational difference and, in some ways, a sign that African-Americans are freer now to make personal choices.
PENNY POWELL: Which story in your book made you smile the most? Which one made you cry or feel a degree of sadness?
CECELIE BERRY: One story that stands out in the “smile” category is Evelyn Coleman’s essay “When Wild Southern Women Raise Daughters.” She talks about going out to do the “bump” at night in discos and leaving her daughters with relatives. That made me laugh because I remember doing the bump myself!
There are many touching stories in the book, with elements of sadness, but beauty and grace, too. Section III, Torch Song for Mother and Child is replete with such moments, and Tananarive Due’s story of her miscarriages, Carolyn Ferrell’s short story “Linda Devine’s Daughters” and, of course, the observations of the late June Jordan on her mother’s suicide are all unforgettable. They are sad, but they challenge us to be better mothers and women, and to appreciate all that we have. [ Continue 1 2 3 ]