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Kickstarting Summer Reading

The Many Lives of Mama Love by Lara Love Hardin

Hello, Radio Readers! I’m Jane Holwerda kickstarting summer by reading down a stack of books. One I recommend is a 2023 memoir. A commonplace about memoirs is that the better ones tell extraordinary tales of ordinary people. This seems an apt description of Lara Love Hardin, and her memoir, The Many Lives of Mama Love.

Originally from New England and a hardscrabble childhood, Love was rebellious, and as can be the case with rebels, a good student. In the 1980s, she moved to Southern California for college and also earned an MFA in creative writing. A shotgun marriage, divorce and second husband later, Love and husband were managing, not successfully, a blended family of children from their first marriages and one of their own, a failing pet cemetery, and spiraling heroin addictions. That’s where the memoir opens, with the family fleeing their home in an upper-middle class neighborhood where Love had stolen her neighbors’ mail, credit cards, and identities.

The utilities in her home having been cut, Love finds refuge for a day or so, by fraudulently checking into a local resort with her 4-year-old son. When detected, Love, her husband and son, scurry back to their suburban home –one assumes under the false bravado of being high--where the adults are arrested, cuffed, and taken to jail. As Love is driven off, she sees her 4-year-old son, crying and crying for her, standing next to police and social workers. And this is when she realizes perhaps she’d made some poor choices. Her arrest, addiction, and career in identity theft goes viral, with a photo of her cuffed and bedraggled, and titled “The Neighbor from Hell.”

In jail and through treatment, Love uses her considerable talents and training in writing to help other women present written arguments for use in making their ways through a complicated, unclear, and unfair justice system. Love herself, driven to regain custody of her 4-year-old son, notes the challenges of beating high recidivism rates, caused by social and criminal justice agencies that don’t share information, set competing schedules, and employers’ – probably understandable -- hesitancy to hire felons adept in using technology to steal. Eventually, and in some ways miraculously, she is hired by an idealistic literary agency, to ghost-write memoirs.

Two of the better known are a book on forgiveness with Desmond Tutu and a more traditional memoir of Anthony Ray Hinton who was wrongly incarcerated for 30 years. Love herself seems amazed by the trajectory of her life story, and this amazement is especially evident in describing a moment when, standing with her employer, the Dali Lama and Bishop Tutu, she realizes, it “…doesn’t matter what people think of me. I am standing in the light, at a temple, in service to something bigger than my insecurities and flaws. Bigger than my past and my mistakes.” Love expresses gratitude to her employer, Doug Abrams, who consistently expressed in word and action his confidence and trust. More importantly, as she writes in the final pages of her memoir, “The worst thing I’ve ever done is build an identity out of the worst thing I’ve ever done. I’ve condemned others for not being able to see beyond my past when I was the one who couldn’t see beyond [it].”

Lara Love Hardin may not be an ordinary person, after all, but the arc of her life story? Extraordinary.

For HPPR Radio Readers, I’m Jane Holwerda, from Dodge City, Kansas.

After 21 years at Dodge City Community College, Dr. Jane Holwerda retired in May, having served as English faculty, Humanities Division Chair, Dean of Instruction and most recently Vice President of Academic Affairs. In addition to her academic and administrative work, Holwerda has shared her passion for reading with Radio Readers Book Club having served as a Book Leader in the inaugural 2016 Spring Read.

A native of Lindsborg, Kan., Jane holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Marymount College in Kansas, a Master of Arts in English, with high honors and a doctorate in American Studies with distinction both from Saint Louis University.

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