Born to militant Black Panthers and adopted by Jane Fonda, Mary Williams spent three decades traveling around the world before she was ready to embark on her final journey home.
Mary Williams was born and grew up in Oakland, in the ’70s -- a vivid childhood during a time of immense political and cultural upheaval, though hardly idyllic. Her father was often absent or in prison, her older sister succumbed to prostitution and teenage pregnancy, and her mother struggled with alcoholism. For all she knew, Mary was headed down the same path.
But all of that changed radically when she met Jane Fonda at a summer camp run by Fonda and her then husband, Tom Hayden, in 1978. Fonda took notice of the bright young girl, and eventually invited Mary to come and live with her. At age sixteen, Mary left Oakland for star-studded Santa Monica. Overnight, a daughter of the revolution became a daughter of celebrity and privilege, socially conscious and well-educated. Her adult life has been no less unique: Mary’s work with the Lost Boys of Sudan inspired Dave Eggers to write What is the What, she hiked the Appalachian Trail (solo), and she spent months working in Antarctica.
But Mary’s greatest adventure has been the trip back home, to reconnect with the family she left behind as an adolescent, including reuniting with her birth mother and sister as well as the meeting of Jane and her birthmother. THE LOST DAUGHTER is a warm and poignant story of identity, redemption, forgiveness and the definition of family.
"I've known Mary Williams for almost ten years now, and I always hoped she would tell her incredible story. She's a writer of uncommon clarity and humor, and the arrival of her memoir is cause for celebration."
—Dave Eggers, author of What is the What and A Hologram for the King
Mary Williams is the author of the children’s book Brothers in Hope, and has been published in The Believer, McSweeney’s, and O: The Oprah Magazine. She lives in Tucson.
Dave Eggers is the author of seven books, including A Hologram for the King, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and Zeitoun, winner of the American Book Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. What Is the What was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award and won France’s Prix Medici. That book, about Valentino Achak Deng, a survivor of the civil war in Sudan, gave birth to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation, which operates a secondary school in South Sudan run by Mr. Deng. Eggers is the founder and editor of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing house based in San Francisco that produces a quarterly journal, a monthly magazine, The Believer, and an oral history series, Voice of Witness. In 2002, with Nínive Calegari he co-founded 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center for youth in the Mission District of San Francisco. Local communities have since opened sister 826 centers in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Ann Arbor, Seattle, Boston and Washington, DC, and similar centers now exist in London (the Ministry of Stories), Dublin (Fighting Words) and in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Melbourne, and many other cities. A native of Chicago, Eggers now lives in Northern California with his wife and two children.
Berkeley Arts & Letters at First Congregational Church of Berkeley (2345 Channing Way at Dana; enter via doors on Channing)
Tickets $12 ($5 students) in advance only, at Brown Paper Tickets online or 800-838-3006; $15 at the door
"The Lost Daughter is an extraordinary memoir. In fact, this is exactly the kind of story for which memoir was born. Mary Williams has lived more lives than a dozen other women combined. Some of those lives have been brutal and others have been blessed, but she regards every aspect of her remarkable journey with the same sense of clarity, honesty, compassion, and (in delightful outbursts) vivacious wit. I marvel at this book, at this life, at this unforgettable account of a mighty and uncrushable human being."
—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed
“I love the way Mary Williams tells her story, The Lost Daughter, of living in and between two worlds—upheavals and miracles, deprivations, and opportunities. A world of mothers lost and found again. It is ultimately a story about acceptance and forgiveness and gratitude, told with the deepest compassion, honesty and, ultimately, love.”
—Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues
“A tender memoir of love and redemption. Born during the civil rights movement to Black Panther Party parents, Williams grew up in a tough neighborhood of Oakland, Calif., [until] actress and activist Jane Fonda stepped in and gave the bright 16-year-old girl a new life. And for 30 years, Williams avoided looking backward to her birth mother and rough beginnings....In heartwarming prose, the author explains how she eventually reunited with her siblings, their children and finally her birth mother. A compassionate tale of soul-searching and family love.”
“William’s attempts to reconcile her two disparate families and lives form the heart of her conversational narrative of a life changed by what looks like chance....A fascinating picture of Jane Fonda in a maternal role emerges but equally intriguing is Williams’s description of life as a small child living in the close-knit Black Panther community. Williams will remind readers that tensions ran high in the 1970s and that sometimes the collateral damage was human life.”