In her new memoir, Missing (Jackleg Press, 2022), children's book author Cornelia Maude Spelman explores her family history and her mother's life. Spelman was encouraged by her friend, the late, legendary New Yorker editor William Maxwell to write her life. When Spelman hints at what she thinks of as the failure of her parents' lives, he counters that "in a good novel one doesn't look for a success story, but for a story that moves one with its human drama and richness of experience." Maxwell encourages her to tell her mother's story at their final meeting. Missing is Spelman's response to Maxwell's wisdom. With the pacing of the mystery novels her mother loved and using everything from letters and interviews to the family's quotidian paper trail-medical records, telegrams, and other oft-overlooked clues to a family's history-Spelman reconstructs her mother's life and untimely death. Along the way, she unravels mysteries of her family, including the fate of her long-lost older brother. Spelman skillfully draws the reader into the elation and sorrow that accompanies the discovery of a family's past. A profoundly loving yet honest elegy, Missing is complex and beautiful like the mother it memorializes.
Rebekah Buchanan is a Professor of English and Director of English Education at Western Illinois University. Her research focuses on feminism, activism, and literacy practices in youth culture, specifically through zines and music.