October 2013 marked 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.
Libby Maxey—Literary Reflections Editorial Assistant
I used to be paid to read. I may not have been paid all that much, but as a graduate student, I was always happily conscious of the fact that reading was, unbelievably, a means of supporting myself. Once I left my graduate program to follow my husband to his new teaching job, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. Not only was I no longer paid to read, I could hardly justify it anymore. I had a house to organize, a new world to map, and, within a few months, a first pregnancy to adjust to as well. I tried to continue reading and working away at my incipient dissertation, but without an academic community of my own or any intention of pursuing an academic career that would separate me from my husband, my efforts felt increasingly aimless. Meanwhile, first trimester depression made my esoteric medieval scholarship seem utterly irrelevant, even to me; when I was told that my 20-week ultrasound showed a few too many markers of Down Syndrome, nearly everything else in my life seemed irrelevant, too.
For a few months, I don’t think I read anything except the Bradley Method birthing guide. Then, suddenly, I had a baby, and I was stuck on the couch all day and all night, doggedly nursing toward acceptable weight gain. My son was perfectly healthy, as it turned out, but I didn’t produce enough milk (one never worries about the right things), and we had to nurse perpetually in order to limit supplementation. Then I started reading again. I read Elmer Gantry because I had been meaning to get around to it since high school. The Great Gatsby, too. For the first time, I dipped into Daphne de Maurier, Sarah Orne Jewett, Isak Dineson, Marilynne Robinson, Wendell Berry, Barbara Kingsolver and M. F. K. Fisher. I deliberately avoided reading about raising children. Everything that I had read about pregnancy and childbirth and breastfeeding now felt like it had been a waste of time (even if that wasn’t actually the case), and I didn’t want any more advice. I didn’t want to think about being a mother. I wanted literature that would make me feel more like the literary scholar I used to be and less like somebody’s inadequate food supply.
When a friend sent me a link to Literary Mama, however, I found myself reading far back into its archives. This was writing about motherhood that wasn’t condescending or pandering or alarmist; it didn’t pretend to diagnose or dispense with anybody’s parenting problems, and it didn’t trade in tired sentimentality or canned reassurances. It wasn’t an affront to my intellect or my literary sensibilities. It was liberating to know that such a thing existed. Not only did it make me want to read about motherhood, it made me want to write about it, too. I sketched out a plan for an LM column that I never actually proposed; I started writing maternal poetry, some of which I did eventually submit. I had been writing sonnets since the sixth grade, but I published my first in Literary Mama. Years later, now a full-time mother of two little boys, I happened to check in at LM just in time to see a call for new editors. Never before had it occurred to me that I might join the staff, but I loved the thought of working for a journal that had once inspired me, at a time when inspiration seemed utterly beyond reach. I’ve been putting together reading lists in the Literary Reflections department since the Fall of 2012, and I hope that somewhere along the way, I have helped to put a refreshing book in the hands of another couch-bound literary mama.