What Our Mothers Gave Us:

A Conversation About the Gifts That Mattered Most Replay

In honor of Mother’s Day, please join Elizabeth Benedict talking to Margo Jefferson, Mary Morris, Cecilia Muñoz, Katha Pollitt, and Roxana Robinson.

Can you remember a favorite gift from your mother? One that encapsulates who she is, or was, and something essential about your relationship? 

For me it was a beautiful black wool scarf — the last gift she gave me. It garnered compliments every time I wore it around the neck of my winter coat. When people asked where I got it, my voice would catch as I answered, “My mother.” “Oh, your mother,” someone said. “Then there must be a story.” She was right. There was. 

I wanted to know if other women had a similar story about gifts from their mothers, and I invited 30 wonderful writers to tell those stories in What My Mother Gave: 31 Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most. The collection was a NY Times bestseller and inspired public and private conversations. Some of the gifts were tangible – a horse, a cake pan, a plant, a passport – and some were experiences: a day on the Circle Line Boat, a trip to Europe, a grand wedding. And some were ways of making our ways through the world. 

Sunday, May 10 is Mother’s Day. This year, to honor our mothers and the gifts they gave us, I’ve invited a small group of these writers to an online conversation to talk about those gifts as we deal with the new world in which we’re living. As we learn new ways to connect and to be apart, and new ways to consider comfort, joy, safety, and security, which are so often associated with our mothers. 

Hosted by:

Elizabeth Benedict

Elizabeth Benedict is a novelist, journalist, critic, and editor. Her five novels include the bestseller Almost and the National Book Award finalist Slow Dancing. She’s the author of a classic book on writing, The Joy of Writing Sex: A Guide For Fiction Writers, in print for 25 years. Her journalism and personal essays have appeared in The New York Times, American Prospect, Esquire, Daedalus, Salmagundi, and elsewhere, and earned her five “Notable Essay” citations in The Best American Essays. The three anthologies she edited include Mentors, Muses & Monsters: 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their Lives and What My Mother Gave Me: 31 Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most. She lives in New York City.

Joined by:

Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollitt is a poet, essayist, and columnist for the Nation. She has written seven books and has won many awards for her writing, including two National Magazine Awards and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her personal essay “Learning to Drive” was made into a movie starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley. Her most recent book, Pro:Reclaiming Abortion Rights, was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She lives in New York City with her husband, Steven Lukes, and her cat, Patsy.

Margo Jefferson

Margo Jefferson is a Pulitzer Prize-wining critic and the author of Negroland and On Michael Jackson. Negroland won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, The Heartland Prize, The Bridge Prize, and was shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize. She has been a staff writer for The New York Times and a contributor to New York Magazine, The Guardian, Vogue, the Washington Post and other periodicals. Her work has also appeared in many anthologies, including Best American Essays, Best African American Essays, The Mrs. Dalloway Reader and The Jazz Cadence of American Culture. She teaches writing at Columbia University. 

Mary Morris

Mary Morris is the author of sixteen books – eight novels, including most recently Gateway to the Moon, three collections of short stories, and four travel memoirs, including the travel classic, Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone. Her short stories, articles and travel essays have appeared in The Atlantic, Narrative, The Paris Review, and The New York Times. Morris is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the George W. Perkins Fellowship from Princeton University and the Rome Prize in Literature. In 2016 The Jazz Palace was awarded the Anisfield-Wolf Award for fiction. Her travel memoir, All the Way to the Tigers, will be published in spring 2020. Morris teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Roxana Robinson

Roxana Robinson is the author of ten books, most recently, Dawson’s Fall. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Best American Short Stories, and elsewhere. Her books have been named Best of the Year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere. She has won the Maine Fiction Prize (twice), the James Webb Award, and been shortlisted for the Dublin Impac Award. She received the Writers for Writers Award from Poets and Writers. She has received Fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation. A former President of the Authors Guild, she teaches at Hunter College.

Cecilia Muñoz

Cecilia Muñoz served for eight years on President Obama’s senior staff, becoming the nation’s longest serving Director of the Domestic Policy Council. Her experience at the highest levels of government and often the only Latina present inspired her just-published book, More Than Ready: Be Strong and Be You … and Other Lessons for Women of Color on the Rise. Before the White House, she served for 20 years at the National Council of La Raza (now UNIDOS US), and earned a MacArthur Fellowship for her work on immigration and civil rights. She is now the Vice President for Public Interest Technology and Local Initiatives at New America. She lives in Maryland.

Praise for What my mother gave me

“Longing, grief and hard-won forgiveness pervade this essay collection by a stellar group of writers as they take stock of the gifts, visible and invisible, their mothers left behind.” ―MORE Magazine


“Original tributes by celebrated novelists, poets and journalists detail the regard in which the writers hold their mothers or their memory of their mothers even as they contemplate complex parent/child relationships in retrospect.” ―Louisville Courier-Journal

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