Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
A Conversation with Sherisa de Groot

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Sherisa de Groot. Photo by Dennis de Groot.

Sherisa de Groot is the founding editor and editor-in-chief of Raising Mothers, an online literary magazine which highlights the writing of femme-identifying and nonbinary people of color who parent. Raising Mothers is entering its fourth year of publishing, and this year, de Groot has expanded her magazine in many ways. Raising Mothers is growing its editorial staff, running its first contest, and starting "Mother Mail"—a postcard swap for mothers to connect with each other and help break the isolation of modern parenting culture. Like so many of us at Literary Mama, de Groot balances her role as an editor with mothering two young children and trying to make time for her own writing. Recently, Literary Mama Editor-in-Chief Amanda Jaros connected with de Groot to find out more about Raising Mothers and its mission and how de Groot's work is building a community for mother writers of color.

Amanda Jaros: In reading literary journals this winter, I was delighted to discover Raising Mothers, whose goals are so similar to Literary Mama's. On your website you write, "We aim to elevate our voices, share our stories, talk about our issues, represent our culture, cultivate community, preserve our history, and celebrate our joy." What is the inspiration behind your magazine?

Sherisa de Groot: The original inspiration behind Raising Mothers was myself, really. Here I was, a first-generation Caribbean American woman married to an Asian Dutch man, living in Europe and about to have my first child. I was away from the only community I knew; I was removed from everything. When I started to read blogs and later came across literary journals, I couldn't find a semblance of my voice. I wanted to read stories by other women who felt like me and looked like me. Who spoke like me.

Raising Mothers' mission is to put ourselves first, as women and nonbinary people of color, and as parents. When I was pregnant with my first child, I searched high and low for a place online that served my community in a way that didn't leave us as the exception. I couldn't find that place. I also didn't want to blog about my own child, so I started thinking bigger than myself. As I grew in motherhood, my views became much more inclusive to the extent that I wanted to make space for other marginalized people. I wanted to celebrate each person but also allow for the mundane.

AJ: Raising Mothers looks not only at motherhood, but also the lack of literary publications that focus on women and mothers of color. Your site states that "There is an endless supply of websites targeted at how to raise children from birth until they leave the nest. Few, if any, focus on raising us. Fewer still pay any attention to mothers of color." What role do you think a journal or magazine that focuses on mother writers of color can play in challenging the status quo of the literary community? The parenting community?

SdG: I think literary journals like Raising Mothers play a vital role. We work diligently to make sure we see each other and to make sure everyone else does, too. There is a lack of representation across the board as to who and what is the motherhood ideal. Typically, that picture hasn't been of someone who looks like my community. White, partnered motherhood is the standard. White female vulnerability, white female (and almost exclusively heteronormative) "girl/mom boss" is the image we're fed. Things have changed quite a bit with the use of social media since I've become a parent, but structurally most things remain the same. I shouldn't have to dig to find myself.

The world doesn't work with Black women and other Women of Color in mind. This isn't to take away from the wonderful internet spaces that do work to make us whole—makeup bloggers, natural hair bloggers, wellness personalities, etc.—but they tend to be viewed primarily by other Black women. It is my hope that Raising Mothers acts as a beacon of full, unapologetic living in our own unique truths and that everyone learns from that. Just the fact that we exist in public is an affront to what is considered the norm. I take pride in that. I hope to grow deeper in that in years to come.

AJ: Raising Mothers actively seeks out and publishes work by women of color and mothers who identify as LGBTQIA or differently abled. What challenges do you face when seeking out these voices?

SdG: There are two main issues: We are not funded by any grants or large donations (we are still working towards accomplishing our goal this year of being fully funded by our readers), and I have had a great deal of guilt asking people from already underpaid and severely marginalized groups to essentially write for us for free. I know that is mostly the name of the game in the literary world, but it's especially difficult when you are starting out. I still feel like Raising Mothers is in the toddler phase. I am hoping that readers find enough value in the work we publish that they sign up to fund writers and artists. I have been truly fortunate thus far with the amount of talented writers that have lent their time and work to our mission.

The second challenge is making sure writers feel safe. As someone who is cis-femme identifying, I don't pretend to know what life is like from the point of view of a transgender parent. I live as a Black woman. I know that. So I don't use false equivalencies to their experience or how they feel sharing that with me and the Raising Mothers audience. This is why I work diligently on our Instagram to share my point of view as well as that of other marginalized voices.

AJ: Raising Mothers publishes essays, poetry, culture articles, and interviews. Which genre receives the most submissions? What is your preferred genre to read and edit? Why?

SdG: We typically receive essays the most, and by default I guess that is my favorite to read and edit. We also get graphic narratives (which we are hoping to have much more of), and I especially love those. They are such a nice variation to how we take in a story. Now that I have two children, I find I connect more with visuals.

AJ: As an editor, I often put my own writing on a shelf so that I have time to deal with issues or questions, read submissions, or keep the journal moving toward the vision I have for it. Do you find time for your own writing? And how does your writer/editor life meet your mother/family life? Does one inspire the other or make the other harder? How do you manage this balance?

SdG: I find absolutely no time for my own writing, and I used to get on myself about that a lot in the past. Then I came to the conclusion that right now is not the season. Each season could last a few weeks, months, years.

I need to be able to function as a whole adult, and 96 percent of my time I am in mommy mode. The other 70 percent I am working on Raising Mothers. (What? That's not 100 percent?) I use my time as best as I can each day. I did start journaling last year, but I've also taken a break from that. I don't believe in having it all anymore. I feel that tagline was a marketing tool set up to make us feel like failures as mothers. I reject it because typically men are not held to the same standard. I live on a sliding scale. If I can get a little of most things worked on/done, I'm in excellent shape. I will revisit this once my children are both school-bound, and I have more breathing room.

AJ: Writers and editors are so often undervalued for their time and work, meaning we often don't get paid enough—or at all! What sustains you, makes you go the extra mile as the founder and driving force behind a literary magazine?

SdG: There are lots of little things that help sustain me. I took a personal break from the journal for a little over a year, and since I've come back, I've received messages from readers welcoming me back and feeling thankful that I've returned.

The writers that trust their work to Raising Mothers mean everything to me. The people who actually help to fund some of the work that happens behind the scenes also mean the world to me. They are each vital pieces of this delicate puzzle. I love that Raising Mothers is seen as a place for healing, and everyone in their own way serves as a balm for me as well.

AJ: What has surprised you the most about being an editor of a magazine?

SdG: How often I have been moved emotionally. It has been one of the greatest perks of reading submissions. Up until this year, I've worn all the hats in this one-woman band. So far in 2019, I am doing more delegating. I'm working with some editors, and that has left more space for me to think in broader, more holistic terms about Raising Mothers.

AJ: What journals or magazines do you love to read? How do they affect your vision of Raising Mothers?

SdG: I love reading Kweli Magazine, Wear Your Voice Magazine, Racebaitr, Catapult, and many others. I have always been a fan of writing that is beautiful and confronting. I started reading Nikki Giovanni's poetry in fourth grade.

A core tenant in my life is how I carry myself through the world as a Black girl/woman. Once I became a mother, I felt a resurgence of the importance of how I model pride in my Blackness—how it feels, how it smells, how it loves and nurtures and guides. I want my children to have a deep love for all that helps make them who they are and not only take in pop culture's definition of what Blackness is. Especially living in Europe, where there's a myopic view of Black culture, it's important for me to be able to teach my children to walk through life with that pride. The work I read on these sites affirms my identity and the identities of others that finally have space in the general public. It's a freeing thing to not feel hidden in plain sight. I look to these types of online places to make sure I'm doing as much as possible to make space and challenge and question and celebrate the collective Us.

AJ: How do you define success?

SdG: Being fully satisfied with what is available for public consumption. I could always do more if I had more time and money and talent, but I have to love where I am now and love all that I've done with all at my disposal. If it is recognized, that is great. But I can't measure my success based on the opinions of others anymore. It's a futile act. If people keep coming back and wanting to work with us, then that means we are doing great. If people keep reading and continue to fund our efforts and attend anything we do in the future, then we are where we should be.

AJ: What do you hope people walk away with when they read Raising Mothers?

SdG: I want them to feel they have found what I was looking for seven years ago. I want readers to feel seen and welcomed and respected. My hope is to get readers to learn to look beyond the exterior and reexamine things they were taught and how to unlearn some of those things. I want everyone to learn to make space.

Amanda Jaros is a freelance writer living in Ithaca, NY. Her essay “Blood Mountain” won the 2017 Notes From the Field contest at Flyway Journal. Other work has appeared in numerous journals and magazines including, NewfoundLife in the Finger Lakes Magazine, Highlights for Children, and Cargo Literary. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Chatham University.

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Thank you so much for the opportunity, Amanda!
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