Mama’s Child by Joan Steinau Lester

mama's child



A stunning tale about the deeply entrenched conflicts between a white mother and her biracial daughter.

Mama’s Child is story of an idealistic young white woman who travelled to the American South as a civil rights worker, fell in love with an African American man, and started a family in San Francisco, where the more liberal city embraced them—except when it didn’t. They raise a son and daughter, but the tensions surrounding them have a negative impact on their marriage, and they divorce when their children are still young. For their biracial daughter, this split further destabilizes her already challenged sense of self—“Am I black or white?” she must ask herself, “Where do I belong?” Is she her father’s daughter alone?

As the years pass, the chasm between them widens, even as the mother attempts to hold on to the emotional chord that binds them. It isn’t until the daughter, Ruby, herself becomes a wife and mother that she begins to develop compassion and understanding for the many ways that her own mother’s love transcended race and questions of identity.


Do you ever see me? I wanted to ask. Sometimes I felt like an exhibit who was supposed to prove she was a perfect mother. Or how close we were. Who do you see when you look at me? I wondered. Am I the black version of you that you wish you could be? I wanted to say all this.

Mama’s Child is the story of a biracial child, Ruby, who is raised by her white mother. A parent-child relationship is already tough when going through the teenage years but it gets even more tough when the parents are divorced. But, Mama’s Child takes it a step further by exploring the dynamics between a mixed race family.

Even though this a work of fiction, I believe that Joan Steinau Lester has done a phenomenal job of capturing what I would image are the true trials and tribulations of a biracial child. Mama’s Child which is set in the 60’s touches on many different subjects such as the Civil Rights Movement, race relations, familial relationships, and the journey to finding oneself. And, what makes Mama’s Child an excellent read is that you can strip away the racial aspect and it something we could all relate to because we were all once teenagers who tried to understand our parents, we all have been on a lifelong journey to “find” out who we truly are, and we have all had to forgive others and most importantly, ourselves.

And, an added bonus is that cover is simple yet absolutely beautiful!!!

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of Mama’s Child from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.




joan steinau lester


1.     What message do you hope to convey through Mama’s Child?

That however messy family love looks sometimes, the bonds of love can triumph in the most complex situations. I also wanted to give a historical portrait of a family set firmly within the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s, since that was such a watershed time in American history. This mother-daughter pair are decidedly committed members among the activists of that period.
2.     What was the inspiration for Mama’s Child?

In my last novel, Black, White, Other, which was for teens, I explored biracial identity issues for a teenage girl. I wanted to continue that exploration, but for adults this time, where I could dig deeper; and I wanted to set the family in an earlier time period (Black, White, Other is contemporary–“the timeless present” as we say in the trade).

My own family is a biracial one so this is a topic close to home and dear to my heart.

3.     Set the mood for us…when you’re writing, you have to…have no visitors in the house! I need a quiet, cleared-out space in my head, where my characters and plot can take residence. Even though I have a tiny writing cottage ten feet behind our house, I find it impossible to do creative work if we have any out-of-town company staying with us, even for a day.
4.     What has been the most surprising and upsetting part of your literary journey?

Hmmm…surprising how publishing opportunities come in waves. Some years I have books, articles, and blogs lined up, contracted, waiting to be written; other years not much on the horizon, so then it takes a lot of faith to keep writing, submitting my work, waiting and trusting that those fat years will come again. And they always do! In fact, better than ever.

5.     When you’re not writing, what authors do you enjoy reading? What are you currently reading? 

I read a wide range of fiction and nonfiction; am especially interested in authors writing from perspectives different than my own, e.g. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a fabulous contemporary Nigerian author who wrote the novel, Half of a Yellow Sun; or Zora Neale Hurston, who wrote the equally marvelous novel Their Eyes Were Watching God some 75 years ago; or the ever-delightful Langston Hughes, both his memoirs and poetry.

Right now I am a third of the way through The Warmth of Other Suns. When it came out to terrific reviews a couple of years ago I was interested but daunted: the book is a door-stopper of 600 pages. But this story of The Great Migration (the African American internal migration from South to North during 1915-1970) is so beautifully written, and so informative, that I am zipping through it, snatching any chance I can to dive into the book. Isabel Wilkerson, the author, is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, and I see why. I strongly recommend it!
6.     If you had to write your life story, what would the title be? How does that title portray your story?

My Bold Adventures. It gives a sense of my life because I’ve always been eager to explore “what’s around the bend,” unfamiliar territory. I do that through literature and the friends I seek; often my closest circle is made up of people whom social scientists would consider unlikely companions, in that our sociological profiles are so dissimilar.

7.     What are three things readers might be surprised to learn about you?

I love to sing in a church choir: I belong to a metaphysical, “New Thought” church in Oakland near my home, where we have an outstanding choir, singing gospel and old-time hymns but without the “Jesus” or gendered references to divinity. We’ve changed the words, where we can, to reflect an inclusive world that includes all spiritual paths.

 I’ve been happily married to a female partner for 32 years, and am grateful every day for her.

And, I take an hour-long hike every morning in the woods near our house, for physical and mental refreshment. Sometimes I see rabbits or deer, always I am smiling as I listen to the birds singing and watch sunlight filtering through the trees.

8.     What can your fans look forward to next?

A sequel to my teen novel Black, White, Other is under contract and I already have a good first draft. Tentatively entitled Langston Hughes and The One True Me, it should be out Fall, 2014 or Spring, 2015.

9.  Thank you again for allowing me to interview you on Tiffany Talks Books. Are there any last words for those who are reading this interview?

Hang in there, listen to your own truth inside, and follow your heart.


Facebook: Joan Steinau Lester

Twitter: @Joan_Lester

Amazon: Joan Steinau Lester

Goodreads: Joan Steinau Lester


Tiffany, it’s an honor to participate in your blog, thank you.


  1. Wanda Dixon says:

    Looking forward to reading this one.

  2. Tiffany, I’m really glad I was led to your blog. You have some very interesting reviews. My family also includes biracial children whom I love dearly – I’m their Mimi (great-aunt) and will be reading this book later this summer. I’m sure I’ll check out Ms. Lester’s other book on biracial families as well.

    • Hi Marilyn! I am so happy that I was happy to share Mama’s Child with you. Even though it is a work of fiction I believe that the feelings and emotions expressed throughout the book could be what biracial children and their parents experience. If you do read it over the summer please shoot me an email at to let me know what you think. Thanks!!

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