Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Demeter Press: Publishing Groundbreaking Motherhood Studies for Eight Years—and Counting

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In 2006, Andrea O'Reilly founded Demeter Press, the first press devoted to scholarly and literary works on mothering and motherhood. Since that time, Demeter has published an extraordinary diversity of titles: fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, essays, and academic studies on topics that include incarcerated mothers, feminist economics, gender-fluid parenting practices, indigenous motherhood and many, many more.

As a small academic press, Demeter (based in Canada) relies heavily on grants to publish and market its titles. Unfortunately, Demeter's key grant was not renewed this year; O'Reilly is now raising funds to support new work.

As a fellow publisher of mother-writing, Literary Mama hopes to lend a hand by spreading word about the press, its founder, and its available titles. Below, we review three recent books from Demeter. For more information on past, current, and forthcoming titles, please see the Demeter catalog.

Motherhood Memoirs: Mothers Creating/Writing Lives
Edited by Justine Dymond and Nicole Willey
Demeter Press, 2013

Through a blend of personal writing and academic research, Motherhood Memoirs tackles tough questions about the way we tell motherhood stories. In “Lost and Found,” for instance, Rachel Robertson examines memoirs on mothering autistic children and asks: “How can the [writer] portray the challenges of her child's neurological difference—the child's distance from her—in a way that also represents her closeness to him or her?” She answers this question through in-depth analysis of published works, but also through her own mothering and mother writing. Interestingly, she notes how the act of writing about relationships with your children changes “the dance of intimacy” itself, especially if children read your work. In her essay “Where's the Funeral?” Justine Dymond asks if and how mother writers can be completely open about post-partum depression “in a culture that still idealizes motherhood.” She examines how memoirs such as Heather B. Armstrong's It Sucked and Then I Cried and Marrit Ingman's Inconsolable have helped to “break the legacy of silence” through humor and candor, and by encouraging more women to share their stories. Motherhood Memoirs also includes essays by Literary Mama editor Rachel Epp Buller and former LM columnist Deesha Philyaw.

Birth of the Uncool
Poems by Madeline Walker
Demeter Press, 2014

In her debut poetry collection, Walker turns Miles Davis' 1957 album Birth of the Cool on its head. Released the year of her birth, this album defined “cool jazz,” and for decades Walker aspired to be “aloof, intellectual, desired... and perfect” like his music. As the title suggests, however, this book signals a surrender to the ineradicable “uncool parts of me.” The result is intimate, at times funny, at others disquieting. In her chapter on motherhood, Walker hints at a sensitive child. “Cupcake” describes a boisterous birthday party, yet:

One small boy at the
margins architects
his cupcake with
great care.
Blue icing built into
cloud formations, sprinkled
with silver starts, too beautiful to eat.

You are still blessed.
You shut out the crash of the world and
rest serene in the
friendly geometry of your mind.

In “MOTHER to Mother,” Walker portrays a short car ride from Costco with her ex-husband, his new wife, and “a car full of our sons”:

In the back seat there is a quiet freckled son I had forgotten about,
or didn't know I had,
named Sandy.
I try to make it up to him—“I'll take you to a movie,
but not this Sunday, because it's father's day,” I say.
Sandy is remote; he doesn't really know me.

Walker's is an exquisite collection that will resonate with the “uncool” in us all.

Mother of Invention: How Our Mothers Influenced Us as Feminist Academics and Activists
Edited by Vanessa Reimer and Sarah Sahagian
Demeter Press, 2013

Mother of Invention combines scholarly and creative writing to examine how the writers' mothers, whether or not they considered themselves feminists, instilled feminist principles in their daughters. In her contribution, “The Dish Ran Away With the Spoon,” for example, Deborah Schnitzer employs both poetry and prose to relate late-night kitchen talks with her mother. Depressed through most of her life and oppressed by both father and husband, Schnitzer's mother still roused herself during these times; spoke of art, politics, and pie-making; and seeded in her daughter the “concepts of equality and invention” she carries with her today. Donna Sharkey, in her essay “The Bungalow Mystery,” describes the many “subtle resistances” of her '50s suburban mother and how they transformed into feminist guidelines for Sharkey's academic life. She relates her story, and each of her mother's lessons, through her childhood literary heroine, Nancy Drew: “Guideline for a feminist academic daughter: Play bridge in two bridge clubs for the joy of it all. Clue: Leave room for what you love.” Of likely appeal to feminist scholars and memoir writers, Mother of Invention offers fresh perspectives on mid-twentieth-century feminism and on the potential for blending academic and literary work.

Katherine J. Barrett is a former senior editor for Literary Mama and  current editor-in-chief for Understorey Magazine. A mother to three young boys, Katherine recently returned to Canada after four years in South Africa. She is the author of the Literary Mama columns Mother City Mama and Of This Fantastic Peach. Katherine holds a PhD in Botany and Ethics and has previously taught at the University of British Columbia.

Katherine lives in Nova Scotia with her family.

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