Dear Self: A Year in the Life of a Welfare Mother

June 19, 2008 at 9:58 am

By Richelene Mitchell, Foreword by Imam Zaid Shakir

It was the year 1973; the Vietnam War was officially over and Watergate was to begin. Pink Floyd’s, Dark Side of the Moon, was the coveted album of the year, reggae music was launched and bell-bottoms were all the rage.

Dear Self: A Year in the Life of a Welfare Mother, chronicles the journal of a young African American mother struggling to raise her seven children amidst the crushing poverty of housing projects, impassive public policy and deep-rooted discrimination. Restricted by unfortunate circumstance, 39-year old Richelene Mitchell expresses her intense literary yearning and activist awareness by writing letters to herself.

An open and moving memoir of the trials and platitudes of life, Dear Self is very likely the first literary work of its kind. Narrations in crystalline prose tell of a system that snares it’s most vulnerable; of endless poverty and sacrifice, hope and conflict, societal prejudices and a precarious health condition endured in secret. Her dignity and intellect unrepressed by her economic and social status, Richelene’s hopes and dreams falter with her tenuous hold on life. She writes how spirit-breaking ‘adequate’ can be, stretching pennies and food stamps for her children and trying to keep a warm home.

Richelene also fleetingly dares to dream, expectations tempered by her place in life and patiently borrows from the hope she sees in the future of her children. In search of betterment, she finds resilience, joy and gratitude in her children, in her books and writing, her bowling league and in being useful to those around her.

A fervent reader and observer of popular culture, Richelene’s writings are infused with her love for literature and poetry. In the pre-internet era and without access to an expensive education, Richelene’s vast knowledge and quick wit are exceptional gifts that do not go unnoticed. Already controversial in her time for her outspoken letter writing to various newspaper editors and politicians, Richelene may have very likely become a celebrated, groundbreaking blogger in our world today.

Dear Self is also a story of inner, personal turmoil of the nafs or self. Faced with hardship, humiliation and unyielding loneliness, Richelene struggles to uphold her self-worth and to make the right choices for herself and her children. She longs for companionship and affection but remains firm against the many suitors that come calling. There cannot be passion and companionship without commitment and stability. This is among the many lessons Richelene imparts to us from a bracing self-knowledge that comes with the most shattering of life experiences: divorce, loss, illness and loneliness.

Though penned almost 35 years ago, the message of this award-winning book is still clear and astoundingly relevant. With a foreword written by her first-born son Imam Zaid Shakir, American Muslim scholar, professor and writer, Dear Self is a valuable resource for those seeking to understand the exhausting reality of the dark corners and sharp edges of poverty in America. A reality that continues to be faced by millions of American people, whose quiet plight is rarely heard or voiced in such articulate and graceful words.

For video trailer see: Dear Self Trailer

Dear Self: A Year in the Life of a Welfare Mother
has been selected as a Bronze winner for the Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Award. See the Family and Relationship category at:

And, 2008 Next Generation Indie Book Awards winner.

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