A Mother's Abandonment and a Life in Art, Nature The Day My Mother Left tells the story of a young boy whose mother leaves him — and how that experience stokes his love of art and nature. Author and artist James Prosek discusses the work, which is fiction but largely autobiographical.
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A Mother's Abandonment and a Life in Art, Nature

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A Mother's Abandonment and a Life in Art, Nature

A Mother's Abandonment and a Life in Art, Nature

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

James Prosek is a master at bringing the outdoors into people's lives through art. He is a celebrated fly-fisherman, a critically acclaimed author, and a wildlife artist often described as a modern-day John James Audubon.

How he developed his artistic gift and his love, some might even say his obsession with nature, is chronicled in his latest project. It's a book for young adults called "The Day My Mother Left." It's billed as fiction, but James Prosek's book is largely autobiographical.

It follows nine-year-old Jeremy as his parents go through a bitter divorce. Jeremy's mother, Phoebe, drowns her depression with alcohol and eventually leaves the family without even saying goodbye. Just like that, mom's gone with no contact for years.

Jeremy copes with the loss by losing himself in the fields and streams around his house. There, he finds solace fishing and sketching the wildlife he comes across. James Prosek says he wrote the book as fiction, rather than memoir, because memories from that difficult patch of his life were rather fuzzy.

Mr. JAMES PROSEK (Author, "The Day My Mother Left"): I realized that I didn't really remember much of what happened during that time in my life from, like, nine to 13. It was completely a blank. And I didn't even remember the moment that I saw her again, which is - I was walking across this playing field at school and I saw her with some random young girl. And I recognized her as my mom, and I went up to her and she didn't even acknowledge me or recognize me.

So when I kind of remembered some of those events, I pieced it together. And the reason I wanted to write it from a nine-year-old's perspective is because that was a perspective that I had, and I also wanted it to resonate with kids. I wanted to write a story that kids could read who had gone through a loss, or even their parents, and get something out of it.

NORRIS: Your father still lives down the street from you? He was very close to you.

Mr. PROSEK: He lives, yeah, two houses away.

NORRIS: Was he a part of this process?

Mr. PROSEK: No, my father wouldn't talk about it with me. So he - he said I don't want to know about it, I don't want think about it. He did read the story finally and he was - he was more okay with it than my mother. But he, I think, blocked it out to a certain extent. But when I was a kid I think I went into the woods and that's when I really felt when all this stuff - I'd never been abandoned before in any way.

My mother was a great mother. We were very, very close, almost too close; I relied on her for a lot of things. And so it was very jolting, I would imagine, when she left. But when I went into the woods, it was the first time that I felt like something was mine. It's almost like this hand came down from above and, you know, tapped me on the shoulder and said it's going to be okay.

NORRIS: How do you write about Phoebe, this character who leaves her son with no explanation, without turning her on the page into some kind of maternal monster, some sort of demon, because it's a fictional character but it's your mother also.

Mr. PROSEK: Yeah. You know, I didn't see her as a monster. But when my mom read the story recently, she said why did you depict me as a drunk loser? I'm like, I don't think, you know, I depicted you as a drunk loser. I think that in the story the mother is the one who encourages the character Jeremy to express himself creatively and to find his creative voice. And in the end, she tells him the story about this king who kept birds in cages, and he would pierce their eyes and blind them in order - so that they would sing to their full potential.

And the mother tells the boy at the end of the book that he needs to go through this tragedy in order to create to his full potential. And he eats it up. I mean he loves hearing that kind of stuff. He's a sucker for fables and for justifications of what happened. And even if it's just the mother justifying to herself what she did and why she needed to do this, and part of the message -not that there's really a message - but is that kids need to kind of realize that they need to do things with their own lives outside of what their parents do, or at some point you have to kind of become independent.

NORRIS: In the book, Jeremy yearns for an explanation or at least an apology. Did you ever get that from your mother, or is that even important?

Mr. PROSEK: No. She never ever, ever, ever apologized for what she did. And in a way I kind of admire her for that because she doesn't have any regrets. She probably does have regrets. She probably does have a lot of guilt. But yes, she never apologized. And I never really wanted an apology. It's just, you know, it's just what happened. And I'm okay with that.

NORRIS: James Prosek, thanks for coming in.

Mr. PROSEK: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: James Prosek's book is called "The Day My Mother Left."

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