Before Women Had Wings
By Connie May Fowler
(Ballantine Books, Paperback, 9780449911440, 304pp.)
Publication Date: April 22, 1997
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My name is Avocet Abigail Jackson. But because Mama couldn't find anyone who thought Avocet was a fine name for a child, she called me Bird. Which is okay by me. She named both her children after birds, her logic being that if we were named for something with wings then maybe we'd be able to fly above the shit in our lives. . . .
So says Bird Jackson, the mesmerizing narrator of Connie May Fowler's vivid and brilliantly written, Before Women Had Wings.
Starstruck by a dime-store picture of Jesus, Bird fancies herself "His girlfriend" and embarks upon a spiritual quest for salvation, even as the chaos of her home life plunges her into a stony silence. In stark and honest language, she tells the tragic life of her father, a sweet-talking wanna-be country music star, tracks her older sister's perilous journey into womanhood, and witnesses her mother make a courageous and ultimately devastating decision.
Yet most profound is Bird's own story--her struggle to sift through the ashes of her parents' lives, her meeting with Miss Zora, a healer whose prayers over the bones of winged creatures are meant to guide their souls to heaven, and her will to make sense of a world where fear is more plentiful than hope, retribution more valued than love. . . .
"A thing of heart-rending beauty, a moving exploration of love and loss, violence and grief, forgiveness and redemption."
"There is no denying the depth of Connie May Fowler's talent and the breadth of her imagination."
--The New York Times Book Review
--The Boston Sunday Globe
Connie May Fowler grew up in St. Augustine, Florida, until her father died when she was only seven years old, leaving Connie, her sister Deidre, and their mother Lee in near poverty. They moved to Tampa, and as her mother struggled to make ends meet as a motel bookkeeper and maid, Connie sought refuge in books: "I could be transported from the awful circumstances of my life by simply opening a book. And writing went hand in hand with reading. Writing to me was a kind of salvation."
While Connie attended the University of Tampa on a full scholarship, her mother, who had never really gotten over the loss of her husband, started drinking heavily and eventually died of cirrhosis. Connie, feeling lost, quit school and spent two years traveling through the United States and Mexico. She returned to Florida, where the provost of the University of Tampa spotted her working as a waitress and persuaded her to return to the university where she earned a B.A. in English.
Connie married Mika Fowler in 1987 and moved to Kansas, where she enrolled in graduate school at the University of Kansas. A professor there encouraged her to take a class in fiction writing. "That suggestion turned everything around for me. The fiction professor treated me for the first time in my life as if I was truly a writer. With her, everything coalesced. Fiction suddenly made sense to me." Sugar Cage, Connie's critically acclaimed debut novel, began as a short story written to fulfill a writing assignment for a fiction workshop. It evolved into her graduate thesis and eventually into a novel. Critical praise continued with her next two novels, River of Hidden Dreams and Before Women Had Wings.