Q&A Terri Hawkes, Co-Editor, Performing Motherhood

Q&A Terri Hawkes, Co-Editor, Performing Motherhood

Terri Hawkes HeadshotAuthor Q&A: Terri Hawkes, Co-Editor, Performing Motherhood: Artistic, Activist and Everyday Enactments (Demeter Press)

Why did you edit the Performing Motherhood anthology, what was your goal for the book and why these specific topics?

Performing Motherhood was a true team effort with my co-editors Amber Kinser and Kryn Freehling-Burton, our terrific cohort of contributors, and the hard working Demeter Press family. My background is as a professional writer, director and actor; I am also the mother of teenage twins. Currently I am pursuing a PhD at York University, focusing on women working in the arts. Kryn, who teaches at Oregon State University, was in Toronto for a MIRCI (Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement) conference and heard me present a paper on mothers working in theatre. I wrote the essay in a “maternal theories” class taught by Demeter Press publisher, Dr. Andrea O’Reilly, and had used that opportunity to interview colleagues – actors who had become mothers – and question them about how becoming a mother had affected their work opportunities in the theatre. Kryn approached me about my work, and at a subsequent conference, aligned with East Tennessee State University professor Amber Kinser to pitch the idea of this book to Andrea. Andrea then asked us all to co-edit. An editing team was born!

From the beginning, Amber, Kryn and I were interested in the intersection between performance and the maternal. By this I mean we wanted to showcase a large cast of mothers who perform motherhood in their everyday lives, mothers who perform in the arts, mothers who creatively battle impediments to mother-work, and mother-artists who use their mothering as the muse through whom they explore the sorrowful, joyful and triumphant experiences of mothers. We wanted to show that the work of mothering is inextricably interwoven with our creative work, whether that creativity is in the domestic or private spheres, and whether it emerges in artistic, activist, or everyday enactments. We initially chose the topics based on a loose idea of representations of these themes, but ultimately, the chapters chose us. We received a substantial number of worthy submissions for this anthology, but ultimately it became clear as to which ones suited our themes and our desire to present mothers with agency. In the process, we were inspired by topics that hadn’t been on our radar — unique experiences of mothering that we hadn’t read about elsewhere. We were also reminded of the vast artistic connections between performance and the maternal in diverse arenas – from the sexualization in our childrens’ dance practices to musical activist opportunities for mothers in the Appalachians, to Canadian-Punjabi cultural performances of mothering, to online photography and blogging about motherhood, to poetry making around queer and trans performances of mothering. And while the artist arenas expanded and diversified, so did our feminist lens; we were pleased to include contributors who spoke about different performances of mothering from perspectives which examined race, culture, sexual orientation, gender, age, and ability. Our goal was to include it all: to create one big feminist party of rockin’ performances of mothering, and to gift this to a diverse and engaged audience of artists, academics, activists, mothers and mother-lovers!

What makes a good anthology great?

My subjective response to this is that, to be great, an anthology, like any story, needs the key ingredients of thoroughly drawn characters, an intriguing setting, an energetic plot, conflict, strong voices, thought provoking themes; ideally it will engage and emotionally affect its audience. An anthology has the blessing – and challenge – of bringing many contributors to the cast. Each contributors’ chapter has a story to tell, an audience to engage, a message to relay. As a whole, the group of stories has the opportunity to tell a larger story, to flesh out a more diverse cast of characters, to examine a greater group of themes, to leave the audience with a deeper understanding of the rainbow of issues, and ultimately, to leave the reader with the sense of possibility for their own stories of creation and agency. Ideally, the experience will also leave the writers feeling satisfied, and the readers feeling entertained!

WO BMP Performing MotherhoodWhat was the greatest challenge in bringing the book to market?

I guess this question around challenges in bringing a book to market might lead one to address the typical tests of combining mother-work with professional work: the late night Skype meetings, deadlines through parental death and elder care responsibilities, juggling of graduations and conference calls, and occasional efforts to tend to our primary relationships — those types of challenges? Yet in addition to that, publishing has its own set of challenges. In our case, Demeter Press, a fiercely vigilant press in defending the importance of maternal studies, lost some funding at the eleventh hour. However, Andrea O’Reilly, with the support of the Demeter team, a loyal readership and audience, and like-minded activists, ignited a campaign protesting this loss, and simultaneously procured an alternative form of funding which has allowed the press to survive. Yes – motherhood does matter!!

What would you like the reader to take away after reading Performing Motherhood?

Amber, Kryn, Andrea and I have always hoped that our work, and that of our contributors would help create awareness of the challenges, hopes, and possibilities of feminist mothering, or empowered mothering, or whatever term most suits you. Ultimately, we seek to support mothers – community mothers, foster mothers, adoptive mothers, LGBTQ mothers, mothers from visible minorities, mothers with disabilities, older mothers, younger mothers, single mothers, academic mothers, activist mothers, artist mothers and more. And although our stories are located in North America, in spirit, we support mothers globally. We celebrate these mothers, we sing their stories, we fuel their activism, we applaud their creativity, we fight for their agency, we enlarge the circle of engaged citizens who acknowledge and support and champion the complex journeys for mothers around the world.

What advice do you have for other mother writers?

Write five minutes a day. I’ve never taken that advice, but I hear it works. Some writers I know put locks on their doors while they work; which doesn’t really help if you have toddlers scratching at the door. Child care helps, if you can swing it, and not everyone can. This leads to the need for rethinking child care as a necessity, rather than a luxury. Ideally, writing should get the same kind of access to child care than any other priority responsibility would get.   Meanwhile, an option might be to depend on the kindness of extended relatives? Or good friends?   Or engaging your children in your projects? Others I know, who are in partnerships, ask their partner to take the morning parenting shift while they prioritize writing in the morning hours. Personally, I wasn’t entirely successful with any of the preceding. I used a hybrid of these tactics, and yet, oddly, I still needed to enroll in graduate school to rediscover a schedule that forced me to write. Deadlines. That’s what I needed. My father has always said: “Deadlines are your friend.”

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Read an excerpt from Performing Motherhood

Buy Now: Performing Motherhood (Demeter Press)




Those Eyes

Those Eyes

By Kelly Jeske

WO BMP Performing MotherhoodThis is an excerpt from Performing Motherhood: Artistic, Activist and Everyday Enactments, edited by Amber Kinser, Kryn Freehling-Burton, and Terri Hawkes (Demeter Press, December 2014)

“Does she have an ethnicity?” Standing near the door of our apartment, the neighbor looks at my sleeping newborn. I am stunned silent. Later, my partner and I grunt out bursts of incredulous laughter as we try on retorts: “Do you have an ethnicity?” “We’re not sure yet? Can you usually tell by now?” “Well, of course she does! And so do you!” My neighbor noted difference and asked me to quantify it. This tiny creature, just becoming, must belong to some discrete category. Same or different? Like you or not?

On the street, black men comment on the likeness they see between my daughter and me. “Aw, she looks just like her mama!” they say, usually smiling big. Our brown eyes and full lips, her light skin, build the possibility of our relation by blood. In those moments, I find myself at once flattered by the comparison of myself to this child, and uncomfortable with the erasure of her first mother. I scramble for footing, trying to figure out if I can insert her into the space between myself and my daughter, into the conversation with this stranger. I have the keen sense that I owe it to my daughter to make her first mom real in this moment—that accepting credit for our likeness communicates disregard for their kinship. But some days, I also just want to be recognized as her mama.

Because she has very light skin, I often fear that my daughter won’t be read as a person of color. I ache with the knowledge that, as a white person, I cannot give my daughter racial identity. There’s so much that she won’t get from her white parents. We won’t pass on a cadence of speech that might be recognized as black; we can’t give her the ease of shared history and generations of family experience; we can’t build our own family culture of blackness; we can’t offer an embodied sense of what it means to be a person of color.

When she was smaller and had little hair, we adorned it with colorful barrettes, and styled it into puffs and nubs of braids. We used her first and middle name in tandem—her middle name more identifiably African American. We moved to a neighborhood with more black folks and a racially diverse childcare center. We learned to braid and bead her hair. I felt the tug of dissonance as I created visual contrast between myself and my child, while working at the same time to foster our emotional connection.

During our most recent visit with our daughter’s first mom, we had professional photos taken together. I looked on, through tears, as we captured images of mother and daughter together. Huddled around a computer screen, picking photos from proofs, the three of us exclaimed over expressions they share and features that are mirrored on their faces. We joked about the little girl with her three mothers and chose the shots that flatter all of us the most. I was eager to adorn our home with pictures of our daughter and her mother, pulling in another way to make their relationship more tangible to our four-year-old. I was excited to show the photos to friends and family, concretizing my daughter’s connection to her first mom in a way my words can’t manage. Their deep brown eyes, their widow’s peaks at the top of their foreheads, the kiss of toast that colors our daughter’s skin—to me, their likeness is obvious, irrefutable, beautiful. My favorite pose is with our daughter in her mother’s lap, my partner and me kneeling behind them. Our group is centered by our daughter’s mother, with all of us connected to and surrounding her—just as our smaller family has been brought to life through her body and choices.

When I share the photos from our visit, I’m astounded by a repeated refrain: “Now, do you see a likeness? I don’t really see it.” Several times over, individuals profess that my daughter doesn’t look like her first mother. They don’t say so with disdain or contempt, the people who utter sentiments like this. But they say it with a resolute certainty that makes me think they’re saying something different altogether. Something more like: She doesn’t really look black. Or something like: She looks like she’s really yours, so don’t be worried that she’s not. Or maybe even: I can almost pretend this weird open adoption thing doesn’t exist if I see how much this kid looks like you. Families claim members by discussing physical likeness; they keep departed beloved close by seeing their characteristics in subsequent generations. When newfangled families come along—mixing up race and gender and blood and circumstance—this comfort in appearance gets shaken. When we keep our daughter’s first mother in the picture, we’re demanding that a new lens be used—one the recreates possibilities for familial relationship.

I recently watched a video clip of our one-year-old daughter being held by her first mom. They’re gazing at each other and she’s saying: “Where’d you get those eyes, baby, huh? Who gave you those eyes?” Their eyes are locked as she asks again: “Who gave you those eyes?” My own eyes fill at her tenderness, at this claiming of their connection. As our daughter grows—even primarily apart from her first mom—I watch as her face takes on expressions I’ve seen cross her first mother’s face. I hear tones in her voice, ways that she expresses her thoughts, rhythms in her sentences that remind me of her mother.

When her three mothers talk about this beautiful child, we refer to her as “our daughter.” She is my ex-partner’s and mine, as we move through our days, navigating parenthood, love, and family. She is her first mom’s, once part of her body and living in skin, heart, brain, and cells that are informed by this lineage. As she walks through this world, crafts her own identities, and refines her allegiances, she’ll exist in the borderlands—the overlapping places where relationship is complex and origins aren’t obvious. My daughter’s brown eyes may be similar to my own, but it isn’t me who gave them to her. Pushing her into the world, placing her into my arms, holding onto her after she said goodbye, our daughter’s first mother shifted tides and created a harbor. By blood and by soul, we navigate in love.

Terri Hawkes HeadshotRead An Interview with Terri Hawkes, Co-Editor of Performing Motherhood.