October 2013 marks Literary Mama’s ten year anniversary! On Wednesdays for the next few months we’ll celebrate this milestone with editors and columnists, both past and present. They’ll share what being a part of Literary Mama has meant to them, what they hope for the future of the magazine, and how Literary Mama has shaped their writing, their mothering, and their lives.
Literary Mama first started to take shape in 2002 as a class called Writing About Motherhood taught in Berkeley, California by Amy Hudock. Wanting to deepen their practice, Amy and some of the students formed a writing group and chipped in to pay a babysitter to watch over their young children during meetings. The group met once every two weeks in a kindergarten classroom, pausing for a break midway through the meeting to give the older kids (the ones who didn’t spend the session nursing in their mother’s arms!) a chance to refuel and reconnect with their moms. The women shared nothing in common, at first, but their children and a desire to write. One was a former banker, another was a neurobiologist; others had worked or were still working in education, nonprofit administration, journalism, and other fields.
Soon, the Berkeley writers were producing work that they wanted to publish. Additionally, they were connecting with other mother writers whose work was both too complex to fit in the glossy parenting magazines and too mother-centric to find a home in traditional literary journals.
The group decided to found their own online magazine, a home both for their own writing and for the kind of writing they wanted to read. As they proclaimed in a mission statement, “We are a home for beautiful poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction that may be too long, too complex, too ambiguous, too deep, too raw, too irreverent, too ironic, and too body conscious for other publications.”
In the spring of 2003, the group published several issues of an online monthly magazine called Books and Babies: Writing about Motherhood Literary Web Zine, and then, the following fall, launched LiteraryMama.com. The Berkeley writers reached out to mother writers they had met via blogs, such as Andrea Buchanan’s Phillymama and Lizbeth Finn-Arnold’s The Philosophical Mama, plus list-servs like writermamas, where they met Dawn Friedman and Katie Allison Granju.
The site was built on free blog software, Moveable Type, which worked well for a group of women in different cities and on different schedules; each editor could log in on her own time and edit and publish work. Concerned that “blog” connoted casual and unpolished writing, the editors originally they took care to hide most blog features from the website: it didn’t accept comments, didn’t date-stamp entries, and didn’t include “blog” as one of its sections, all to give the website a look as polished as the writing it published.
The website’s founding 14-member editorial board has expanded over the years to include its present composition of thirty-five writers – all mothers, some of whom work also as teachers, editors, freelance writers, nonprofit administrators, grant writers and the like – in cities around the world. While originally the members of the editorial board happened to be primarily mothers of preschool-age children, we have broadened over the years to include the full range of mothers: single, adoptive, foster, lesbian and straight mothers and grandmothers, of different races, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds, mothering newborns and college students.
As our editorial board has grown, so has our audience, and the ways they access the site have expanded, too: they read us not just at home on computers but while waiting in carpool lines and doctor’s offices via their smart phones and tablets, finding links not just in the ezine and emails but sharing them on Facebook and Twitter, posting links on Pinterest, discussing book recommendations on Goodreads. What will the next ten years bring? I can’t wait to find out.