Tips from the Editors: Literary Reflections
You’ve written it, but now it needs a home. How does a submission make the cut? In this series, the editors at Literary Mama offer their thoughts on the process. This month, Literary Reflections editors Andrea Lani and Libby Maxey share with readers some insight into the pieces they love and the submissions they seek.
The Literary Reflections department publishes essays about the intersection of motherhood and literature. We get a lot of submissions about how motherhood influences the writing process, how it provides inspiration but also creates challenges. While these stories speak to the shared experience of mother writers, we also enjoy featuring pieces that intertwine motherhood and story in new and unexpected ways. Below, we’ve rounded up a few of the interesting approaches we’ve seen in recent years.
Building Connections Through Books
We love essays about building connections through books—connections between mothers and children, but also connections that bridge time and space. In For the Love of Lemony Snicket, Patricia Zaballos looks back on how her children’s growing-up years were enriched by listening to audio recordings of A Series of Unfortunate Events. In Why We Still Need Ramona’s Realism, Sarah Curtis Graziano meditates on the ways Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books still resonate with children decades after their original publication. In The Wolf Inside, Maureen Langloss, a New York City mom, starts a boys’ book club with a hiking component, hoping to build connections between the natural world, artistic inspiration, and creativity.
Struggling for a Connection
We’re also interested in stories of mothers who struggle to make connections happen. In Raising Readers: A Mother’s Tale from the Trenches and A Foundation for a Fortress, Miriam Mandel Levi and Diana Renn face the reality that their children may not love reading as much as they do. In Stefanie Cole’s The Daughter I Need, the barrier to books is a learning disability, which mother and daughter must work together to overcome.
Literature as Identity
In other cases, our writers have turned to literature to help them come to grips with a certain stage of motherhood, or with their mother identity itself. In Bernadette and Me, Natalie Singer-Velush finds a way to embrace all of her selves—mother, thinker, writer—through a close reading of Bernadette Mayer’s epic poem, “Midwinter Day.” Ruth Dawkins, in Confessions of a Diary Writer, delves into teenage diaries, revisiting her previous selves through a mother’s eye. In Drink Me, Lania Knight expands the scope of literature into song lyrics and plays as she contemplates what it means to be a woman and learns to navigate the world as the mother of a gender-transitioning child. On the lighter side, MJ Lemire also stretches our definition of literature to include word games in her essay Good Words, which playfully documents how she maintains a connection to her grown children by keeping up their running list of homophones via text message.
Celebrate Fine Writing
Regardless of topic, we’re always looking for essays that celebrate literature with distinctive and memorably fine writing. Susannah Q. Pratt’s Acknowledgments and Misty Urban’s Walking the Labyrinth on my Almost-Birthday are both beautiful meditations that speak from the heart of a mother’s writing experience. Angela Berkley’s Keeping a Writer’s House with The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes interweaves personal reflection with literary analysis to surprising and touching effect. In Bearing the Body in Paradox, Kelli Zaytoun talks through the experience of having babies and cancer at the same time, drawing on textual support from her academic work to unpack her complicated relationship to her own body. In Truth Be Told, Barbara Straus Lodge writes honestly about the touchy subject of publishing intimate truths that her children might not want told. Dawn Haines, writing Of Art, Desire, Independence and Spirit, describes learning to sing and learning to write as two different aspects of learning to trust herself and the innate value of her expression.
Getting the Work Done
No matter what a mother’s writing style may be, the question of how to get the work done amid the noise and bustle of parenting often remains at the forefront. Some writers, including Anne Liu Kellor, in her essay Open Receptivity, and Billie Hinton in The Great Height and the Long View, have found the time and space they need at writing retreats. Others, such as Meagan Schultz in A Love Letter to My Tribe, have found building a community of other mother writers essential to their process.
We encourage anyone who is considering submitting to Literary Reflections to read several of the examples we’ve highlighted here. These pieces demonstrate how broadly we interpret the scope of our department, and also what we look for in a good essay: a distinct voice, scenes, setting, character building, and narrative arc. We always look for essays that delve below the surface to become both specific and universal, and to reflect deeply on whatever aspect of literature and motherhood the author has chosen to address.