Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Writing Prompt: Literary Reflections

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For each issue of Literary Mama, Literary Reflections shares a writing prompt, inviting our readers to respond. Our editors provide feedback on the responses we receive, and we post our favorites on the blog. This month's writing prompt is inspired by Eileen McGinnis's essay Dead Scientists Society: Experiments in Creativity and Parenting.

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Photo by Literary Mama photo editor, Heather Vrattos

Eileen McGinnis struggles with an age-old conundrum—at least it is age-old for women. Will she ever find time to write/create again now that she is also a mother? Sitting for hours each day in a nursing chair with her newborn, she ponders her lost creative self and her dormant book project. Are caregiving and creativity compatible endeavors, she wonders? Consumed with finding an answer, McGinnis begins researching the lives of historical figures to understand how they combined procreating with creative work.

Some of her research subjects are well known—Charles Darwin, Rachel Carson, Marie Curie. In a biography about Carson, McGinnis learns that the writer best known for beginning the modern environmental movement raised three children who were not her own and took care of an ailing parent. While some argue these relationships hindered Carson's creative work, biographer Jill Lepore contends that Carson's caregiving, in McGinnis's words, "reinforced her ecological vision of life as based on kinship, interdependency."

Other historical parents in McGinnis's research are less well-known. Eslanda "Essie" Cardozo Goode Robeson had a degree in chemistry from Columbia University and, in the 1920s, worked as the first African American lab technician at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. In 1936, she took her eight-year-old son on a trip to Africa so that he might "see millions of other brown and black people, he will see a black world, he will see a black continent." McGinnis writes:

By turns a chemist, writer, anthropologist, and activist, Robeson existed in a constant state of becoming. She cultivated less a professional identity than a perspective, one that was increasingly political in nature and global in scope. . . . Robeson's restless, searching spirit spoke to my own sense of inadequacy as a novice writer nearing 40, without a clear or fixed career path. Her example suggested that shifting professions did not have to read as flighty or irresponsible. It could, to the contrary, be approached with a seriousness of purpose and breadth of vision.

McGinnis turned her research into a blog about creativity and parenting that she plans to continue as she raises her son. She does it, she says, "For solace. For perspective. For wisdom. And, above all, for the thrill of recognition at finding my own mundane daily struggles mirrored in these extraordinary lives."

Have you been inspired by a historical figure who combined creativity with caregiving in ways that informed your own life? What about their choices, struggles, or approach inspired you?

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Read McGinnis's essay and submit a 500-word response to this writing prompt by March 4, 2019, for feedback from our editors. Email it to LMreflections (at) literarymama (dot) com and note "February Prompt" in your subject line. Please do not attach the essay but paste the response in the body of the email.


Susan Bruns Rowe lives in Boise, Idaho, and has two children in college. She has an MFA in creative writing from Boise State University and teaches writing workshops for The Cabin and The Osher Institute. Her writing has appeared in BrevityCreative Nonfiction, The American Oxonian, and the book, Fighting the World’s Fight: Rhodes Scholars in Oxford and Beyond.


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