Thanks to Suburban Turmoil and Miss Cellania, who wrote great posts about their impressions of the book (Miss Cellania even provided photographic proof that she read it!). Suzanne at Mother in Chief writes today about her take on the Literary Mama anthology, and later on look for blog tour posts from Dawn and Megan. And now, answers to some more questions from Jody:
Is mother-writing different from father-writing?
Yes, I think so – mostly because mothers’ experiences are so different than fathers’ experiences, as parents and as writers.
Now I know this is not indicative of all male writers who are also fathers, but I can’t help remembering the panel I was on a few years ago with Faulkner Fox at the Virginia Festival of the Book. We were there to speak about mother-writing, and how we balance creativity with parenthood. Included on the panel was a guy who had self-published a book about being a father. He was an animated conversationalist, and a real marketing hound who had sold his books to specialty shops up and down the eastern seaboard, making a nice profit for himself along the way. But it was clear whenever he answered any of the questions that his experience as a father-writer could not have been more different from ours as mother-writers.
For him there was no question of “balancing” creative work and parenting – it wasn’t his job to do that; that fell to his wife. At first Faulkner and I tried to be polite, but after a while even the audience turned on him. Someone asked us how we managed our time – how we wrote books and took care of our young children – and I talked about how I wrote Mother Shock on a tight deadline because the only childcare I had was Emi’s eight-week, three-hour a day summer school class, how I work during naptime and after I put the kids to sleep, how I learned to work in short spurts of stolen moments rather than precisely scheduled blocks of time. And then the dad guy jumped in and shared how when he was writing his book, it was so crazy, he just left the kids with his wife and checked into a hotel for a week to write around the clock!
I tell you, he barely made it out of there alive.
Why do so many mothers seem to have a real need to read literature about mothering?
Well, as I said in my answer to Miriam’s question, I think literature both takes us out of and gives us a deeper look into our own lives. Mothering, especially in the early years, can be so isolating. Reading someone else’s words, in black and white on the page (or even flickering on the computer screen), can be so comforting. I still remember being astonished, crying grateful tears of relief to find myself discovered on the pages of Child of Mine, an anthology of women writers on pregnancy, childbirth, and the early years of motherhood. Literature inspires us and makes us recognize ourselves. As new motherhood is a time when many women feel “invisible,” I’m not surprised at all that women are eager to connect with this kind of work.
Do you think that literature about mothering is taken seriously by the literary world?
The glib answer: No. Unless it’s written by a man.
The more serious answer: not seriously enough. Mothering as a daily act is unremarkable – billions of people and even animals accomplish this every day – but the experience of it is not. Good writing about that experience isn’t either. I think too often it’s easy to dismiss writing about motherhood as less important than writing about other subjects because of the prejudice against the subject matter. And in some ways I agree – I mean, we’ve all done this mothering thing, we all know how boring and repetitive it can be. Wiping butts, cleaning dishes, picking up toys, singing “The Wheels on the Bus” – it’s not exactly the stuff of great literature. And it’s also true that culturally writing mothers have been constricted by a small range of allowable topics for exploration, and by certain acceptable modes of framing those topics. We have in the past been allowed to be light-hearted, sentimental, humorous, and precious; more recently, we have been allowed to be dark, flip, angry, and personal. I think to have literature about mothering taken seriously, we need to write well about mothering (which certainly can be the stuff of great literature, and we need to cast off the notion that mothers can only write in certain ways and in certain modes about our experiences.
Do you think that literature about mothering could be interesting to people who don’t have children?
I would like to say yes. After all, we have all been children; we have all had a parent in some form or another, whether that figure is biological, adopted, or chosen, an actual mother/father or a mentor. It should be interesting to us, even if we don’t have children. And yet I know from personal experience that the character I identified with in stories before I had children was the child; the character I identify with now that I have children of my own is the mother. I don’t know if people can find stories about mothers all that interesting if they are not mothers themselves. Which is why it is so important to me that literature about mothering be more than just “stories about being a mother.” It has to be, primarily, compelling writing.