Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Essential Reading: Mother’s Day

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A few weeks ago, Literary Mama Literary Reflections Co-Editor Kate Hopper launched her new book, Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers, at the Loft Literary Center here in Minneapolis. Kate was charming and funny (as is to be expected) for an audience of readers, friends, teachers, writers, and, of course, mothers. Lots and lots of mothers. (Some with their babies or kids -- oh, the things we will do to tame our literary beasts.) Kate invited three of the writers that she excerpted in her book to read their work. Lucinda Cummings was one of them. The piece Cummings read was a compelling look at how she mothers through an examination of her relationship with her own mother. One particularly fascinating nugget of wisdom comes from her therapist: "We often grow up to be the best possible parents to the child that we once were, rather than the child we have." This idea has stuck with me, particularly as I read the graphic memoir Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel.

In her earlier work, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Bechdel gave us the story of her father's coming out and his suicide. In this work, the cartoonist looks at her relationship with her mother. She draws heavily on psycho-analytical theory as she tries to make sense of such complexities as the fact that her mother stopped kissing her good-night at the age of seven and her mother's failure to ask Bechdel about her life in phone conversations. Bechdel is not herself a mother -- if she were she might draw a conclusion similar to Cummings -- but at moments she feels as though she has played the mother-role to her own mother, whose gifts and talents seem to be stifled by domesticity. Below are a couple more Mother's Day inspired selections.

Suzanne Kamata, Fiction Co-Editor, writes, "Dragon Chica by May-lee Chai is just as much about the scrappy title character, Nea, as it is about her mother, a Cambodian refugee living in the mid-West in the 1980s. Widowed with five children and a limited education, Ma makes a fresh start in a small Texas town under the sponsorship of the local Baptist church. Doing her best to get by, she cleans motels, smokes cigarettes, and then hauls her brood to the next, most promising place. The family winds up in Nebraska, helping Nea's formerly upper-class aunt and uncle run their foundering Chinese restaurant. They're threatened by loan sharks and bigotry, but Ma's street smarts help them survive. Although Ma is tough and uncompromising, her values sometimes at odd with American ones, Nea gradually acknowledges the love underneath."

Mother City Mama Columnist Katherine Barrett shares, "Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy is a perfect Mother's Day read for thinking moms-to-be. Jena Pincott combines the latest research with memoir, anecdote, and a good dose of humor to answer every possible question about pregnancy and birth."

Rhena Tantisunthorn received her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University in 2007. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and daughter and is currently working on a book about her experiences working with Karenni refugees on the Thai-Burma border. You can find her blog here: Rhena Tan.

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