This Fragile Life

This Fragile Life
This Fragile Life

This Fragile Life

A Mother's Story of a Bipolar Son
By Charlotte Pierce-Baker


256 Pages, 6 x 9

Formats: Cloth, PDF, EPUB, Mobipocket, Trade Paper

Cloth, $24.95 (US $24.95) (CA $27.95)

ISBN 9781613741085

Rights: WOR

Chicago Review Press (Jun 2012)
Lawrence Hill Books


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The heartrending story of mental illness’s surprise attack

Told in a mother’s own words, this is a moving story of a loving African American family that faces the daily crisis of an unpredictable mental disorder. Charlotte Pierce-Baker and her husband did everything right when raising their son Mark: providing emotional support, the best education possible, and the freedom to choose his own path. At age 25, Mark was pursuing a postgraduate degree in film, living with his fiancée, and seemingly in control of his life, so Pierce-Baker never imagined her high-achieving son would wind up handcuffed, barely clothed, dirty, mad, and in jail. Mark’s bipolar disorder manifested late and included hospitalizations, calls in the night, pleas for money, jail, lawyers, prescriptions, doctors, alcohol and drug relapses, and continuous disputes about how to live—and not live. This autobiography weaves a fascinating story of mental illness, race, family, the drive of African Americans to succeed, and a mother's love for her son.


"This Fragile Life is an extraordinary book. . . . compelling, piercing, and informative.” —Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and author of An Unquiet Mind



"[An] eloquent dialogue of mother and son, poetry and prose, sickness and healing,  fury and acceptance, fear and hope, life and death, and, foremost, author and reader." —Cathy N. Davidson, author of Now You See It:  How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn

"With brilliance and tremendous courage, Charlotte Pierce-Baker travels where no other autobiography about mental illness has gone before in terms of discussing issues of a family shattered by the bipolar disorder of their son: race, fear, love, loss and healing. This Fragile Life is a testament to a family forced to cope with mental illness, a unique journey and an emotional triumph. Every family affected with mental illness should read [this] magnificent book." —Andy Behrman, author of Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania


"Vigorously written, brave, and candid . . . a deeply moving, instructive account of embattled lives and loves striving for order in the face of a heartbreaking mental illness." —Arnold Rampersad, author of Ralph Ellison and The Life of Langston Hughes

“An important book not to be missed by anyone interested in parenting, mental health, memoir, or African American social history. With this second memoir, Pierce-Baker again distinguishes herself as a writer fiercely capable of writing trauma transcended.” —Alice Randall, author of The Wind Done Gone, award-winning songwriter, and essayist

"Illuminating and brilliant, with poetry and prose, mother and son lay bare the ravages of bipolar disorder and the journey toward growth and understanding. A touching, lyrical memoir."  —Jewell Parker Rhodes, award-winning author of Voodoo Dreams and Douglass' Women

“Charlotte Pierce-Baker has cleared the way for an earnest conversation about mental illness and addiction in the private lives of African Americans. This Fragile Life is a compelling read about a mother's love and determination, a father's compassion and support, and a son's road to recovery and wholeness.” —T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Distinguished Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies and French, Vanderbilt University

"A dark narrative brightened by a devoted mother’s commitment and resilience in the face of an only child’s strange and terrible illness."  —Kirkus Reviews

Author Biography

Charlotte Pierce-Baker is a professor of women's studies, gender studies, and English at Vanderbilt University and the author of Surviving the Silence. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.