Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Essential Reading: Mothers and Art

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When I first became a mother, I knew that it would change my life as a classical singer, but I didn’t know quite how.  I had read about sopranos who had lost their top notes as a result of pregnancy’s hormonal changes.  (The horror.)  Obviously, I would no longer be able to count on a quiet hour of practice time each day, nor could I commit to regular rehearsals outside the home.  What if I had an unexpected C-section?  How would that affect my ability to support tone?  As it turned out, my voice did not suffer any significant alteration, and although I didn’t sing as much as I would have liked in my first year of motherhood, that year made me want to sing in an entirely new way.  Now rooted in domesticity, I went out to audition with a new purpose, to make a separate place for myself in a musical community.  I also went out with new confidence; nobody who has given birth can be intimidated by a song.  By the time I was pregnant with my second child, I was singing in an opera chorus on the cusp of the third trimester.  Now that my children are older, it’s important to me that I perform for them.  With every passage I practice, every recording I play in the car and every character I play on the stage, I’m making a place for them in my musical community, too.  I haven’t read any books that capture this particular experience, but Anne Lamott’s writing about writing, permeated by her motherhood even when not focused on it, evokes very familiar feelings.  Lamott may appear all too regularly in Literary Mama’s reading lists, but I don’t know another writer who exposes the multifaceted life of the mother-artist quite the way she does.  If you haven’t read it yet, it is high time to read Bird by Bird, and while you’re at it, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year.

Editor-in-Chief Caroline Grant reminds us that a mother's art can be domestic, and also communal: "I've always loved Whitney Otto's first novel, How To Make An American Quilt, about a group of Central California women who gather as a quilting circle over the course of a half century. Literary Mama readers are probably in long-standing writing or reading groups, and the quilting group is a similar source of support and inspiration for the women -- but while they talk about marriage and motherhood, they are expressing themselves creatively, making quilts out of old clothes and curtains. If you only know the movie, it's time to look for the book!"

Fiction Co-Editor Kristina Riggle writes, “In Wally Lamb's newest, We are Water, Annie Oh has spent much of her adult life as the stay-at-home wife of a doctor.  While she minded the three children, her husband ministered to his therapy clients and expected everything domestic to click along smoothly, since his family had all the creature comforts.  When Annie begins to create unusual art out of found objects, he regards her pursuit as an eccentricity, an obsession, or a harmless hobby, depending on the day.  When her art hits the big time, and she's profiled in a piece titled ‘Annie Oh's Angry Art,’ Orion Oh is forced to look at his spouse in a new and unsettling light, and wonders why he never before noticed the pulse of anger in her work.”

Jenny Hobson, Blog Editor, shares a favorite: "Notes From an Exhibition by Patrick Gale has a special place on my shelf.  I've loaned it to friends with the strict instruction that it make its way back to me.  Gale explores the intergenerational interactions between motherhood and art, mediated by mental illness, Quaker spirituality and Cornwall.   Structured around a posthumous exhibition of the mother-artist's work, the book delves into the complexities of what it means to make a family life with an artist. Preparing for a move, I was sad to pack this book away and realized that a re-reading is going to be at the top of my reading list for 2014.”


Libby Maxey lives in rural Massachussetts with her husband and two young sons. With her academic career as a medievalist having died a stunningly swift death by childbirth, she now works as an editor, writes poetry, reads when able, and sings with her local light opera company. Her work has appeared in The Mom Egg Review, Off the Coast, Tule Review, Crannóg Magazine, Mezzo Cammin and elsewhere.


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