A backlog of stories about creative mothers
Hello, friends! I recently read Katie Runde's essay, Writing Your Little Stories In the Shadow of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and it inspired me to revive this little newsletter. I've moved it over to a new platform, again - this time to Buttondown. Over the past few years I've connected virtually with a lot of mother-writers and of course there are mother-artists and mother-scholars and mother-any-type-of-creative-you-can-imagine. This is still going to be a fairly low maintenance newsletter - mostly links, occasional commentary - and with no set schedule - because as a caregiver+homeowner+employed-person that's what I can manage.
As I reminder, I started this newsletter in response to Grace Elliott's Electric Literature essay, Why Do I Have to Choose Between Being a Writer and Being a Mother?
I hope you find the stories I share helpful and inspiring. There are a whole bunch that came out in earlier issues of Genetrix bits and pieces via RSS, so I'm going to drop those in here so they're all in one place, and also add a few more that I've stuck on my blog. Here they are in reverse chronological order:
I highly recommend Sara Fredman’s Write Like A Mother newsletter, in which Sara interviews writers who are also mothers. Some bits from the issue with Kate Baer resonated especially with me, so I thought I’d share them here.
Mothers were so punished in this pandemic.
This. I’m playing the pandemic on easy mode - working part-time from home - and I still feel this. The social costs and lack of a village are what’s hurting me most. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, I hung out for a long time with other parents while our kids were at the park and it was huge. Pre-pandemic, M & I spent every weekday morning at a co-working space with a Montessori school on-site. My co-workers were almost exclusively fellow parents of young children, mostly moms and non-binary primary caregivers, and at the time I didn’t really appreciate how special it was.
…nobody cares if you’re a writer. Nobody, nobody cares if you’re a writer, except you. If you want to be a writer, then you have to take control of the situation. You have to think of yourself as a writer, you have to treat yourself as a writer. You have to treat this like this is a job… I have to be the one who cares so much about being a writer. And so I think part of that is just filtering out that noise and just taking yourself super seriously, taking the work super seriously.
I have only recently claimed the title of writer for myself, despite having written all my life and having my first paid byline 10 years ago, and I feel this so hard. I’m still working on taking myself and the work seriously.
To think of the mother as artist does not necessitate a conflict, nor does it require a choice between passive domestic surrender or total domestic rejection, although for a long time the world demanded that it did. Such frames only reinforce hierarchies, limit her to merely a fragment when, of course, she is composed of many pieces.
Craft — a designation used to subjugate many art-making practices that have been the domain of women: needlepoint, pottery, quilt making. With their connections to the home, these mediums have been historically dismissed, supposedly lacking the rigor and intellectual complexity of high art.
“I have drawn my children and painted them endlessly and I cannot distinguish them from my soul…"
she sometimes wonders why an artist must inhabit turmoil or drama to be taken seriously.
if you’ve read a book penned by a woman with young children recently, there’s a significant chance it was written while hiding, losing sleep, or using inventive distractions. (Or even all three.)
there is no separation between mother and writer, nor can I tease apart the time I spend tending to my child from the time I spend thinking about my writing, or actually doing it.
This is both about writing the kind of thing I want to write and is itself the kind of thing I want to write.
The postpartum experience isn’t just expensive; it can also be one of psychic trauma and creative crisis. Someone who was a person becomes a mother. “You’re not a person. You don’t have a name,” says Zambreno. This feeling of erasure is a current that runs through her work, reaching peak intensity in “To Write as if Already Dead.” “I need to restore myself after being made into a ghost,” Zambreno says. “I always feel like writing the most when I’m being made invisible.”
At Literary Mama, Victoria Livingstone writes about how the tasks of motherhood that “cannot be commodified or marketed” help us learn how to let go of the need to always be productive, and instead grant us space to let our creative spirit wander.
If you've been subscribed to Genetrix for a while, the next links are things you've already seen. They didn't get moved over in my migration to Buttondown so they're not in the archives, and I wanted to have them here. Feel free to quit reading now.
Right before the pandemic started, CJ Howard’s art was hanging up in my co-working space and I was so psyched to get to work near it every day. Please check out her blog, which brought me to tears when I first read it, and follow her on Instagram.
CJ is an amazing example of a mother carving out creative time for herself in the nooks and crannies of her days.
This seems like a disheartening read at first, but stick with it. Over and over again, there are creative mothers who are finding that motherhood gives them new subject matter for their work. This piece affirms that experience.
I immediately recognized myself and my experiences in Madeline Donahue's work and super wish I could have some of her art in my house.
Lauren Weinstein’s comic about being an artist and mother, and discovering another artist’s work about mothering, is heartrending. This is less an example of a mother succeeding creatively and more a set of questions about how we can make that happen, but I still find it really inspiring.
This is a great piece with tons of examples of mothers who are artists.
Offered without Comment
A bunch of links without any notes from me.