BBC Radio 4, 8-12 April 2013
The writer Maya Angelou had a difficult childhood. Sent away from
home by her mother while still very young, she and her brother were brought up by their grandmother. It was only during early
adolescence that mother and children were reunited: the reason being that Maya's mother Vivian Baxter had previously not considered
herself capable enough to be a parent. From then on mother and daughter had what might be described as a feisty relationship:
seldom agreeing with one another, but incapable of living apart.
Mom and Me and Mom is an affectionate memoir of a remarkable woman,
who took several jobs - many of them involving heavy work - to support herself and her family. She obviously cared for
her offspring, but sometimes her temper got the better of her. On at least one occasion she struck the adolescent Maya
across the face as a punishment; Maya and her brother responded by threatening to leave home for good. Vivian also had
relationships with various men: although none of them were criminal, they sometimes operated on the wrong side of the law.
Nonetheless the bond between mother and daughter was a strong one. As she grew
up, Maya came to admire Vivian's strength of character, which proved exceptionally useful. On one occasion Maya went
to Sweden, where one of her screenplays was being filmed. Neither the director nor the star took much notice of her,
but when Vivian arrived the mood changed abruptly. Maya was treated not as an outsider but as an integral member of
the creative team.
Time passed: and Maya embarked on a variety of careers, including starring in a cabaret
show and touring in a production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. By now she had a son of her own; her experiences
as an adolescent had taught her not to abandon him to others. Vivian proved a valuable source of support, not only looking
after Maya's son but providing an emotional rock for her daughter. Maya eventually moved into a full-time career in
North Carolina as a teacher and writer, while Vivian carried out philanthropic work with a group of close friends, both African-American
Vivian eventually died of cancer, but not without a terrific fight. The last
part of Angelou's book proved particular moving, as she recalled how she travelled to the United Kingdom as a Visiting Professor,
and dashed back to North Carolina just in time to catch her mother's last days. Vivian passed away quietly in hospital
after a remarkable life.
Engagingly read by Adjoa Andoh, Mom and Me and Mom was both affectionate
yet inspiring - a shining example of how individuals can achieve their aims (whether personal or professional) through sheer
strength of character. The producer was Jane Marshall.