Mama’s Writing is Raising Mothers’ monthly interview series, curated by Deesha Philyaw.
Kavita Das writes about culture, race, gender, and their intersections. Nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize, Kavita’s work has been published in CNN, Teen Vogue, Catapult, Fast Company, Tin House, Longreads, The Atlantic, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Washington Post, Kenyon Review, NBC News Asian America, Guernica, Quartz, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her first book, Poignant Song: The Life and Music of Lakshmi Shankar (Harper Collins India), a biography about the Grammy-nominated Hindustani singer, was published in June 2019. Kavita is at work on her next book, Sparking Change on the Page: Lessons and Reflections on Writing About Social Issues (Beacon Press, Fall 2022). She lives in New York with her husband, baby daughter, and hound. Find her work at Kavitadas.com and on Twitter: @kavitamix
Raising Mothers: Are there days when you feel like a mother who writes, and others when you feel like a writer who is a mother?
Kavita Das: I had my first baby, Daya, in the fall of 2019 as a forty-five year-old, seven years into my writing career and just months after my first book Poignant Song: The Life and Music of Lakshmi Shankar was published. During her first few months, when I was fortunate enough to have childcare, I saw myself as a writer who was a mother. I was struggling with figuring out “what next” after my first book, which had been a passion project but also with feelings of guilt for leaving my child with someone else while I scurried to my writing space to wrestle with words on a page. But then the pandemic hit, and I no longer had childcare and a strange thing happened as my husband and I juggled child care on top of our work. I found that although I wasn’t as productive, I loved the chance it gave me to see every moment of my child’s development. And I find myself now thinking of myself as a mother who is a writer.
Raising Mothers: How has parenting influenced your writing?
Das: Mothering and juggling childcare duties during the pandemic means I now have far fewer hours to write. Interestingly, I’m both more productive and compassionate to myself. Before becoming a mother, I spent so much time pondering if I should write something and fighting imposter syndrome. Now, I literally don’t have time or mindspace for that. If I’m lucky enough to carve out time to write, I make the most of it. I also find that I’m writing the things I most want to write, things that intimidated me before.
Raising Mothers: How has writing influenced your parenting?
Das: I’m not by nature a patient person. And since I came to writing later in my life, I used to feel like I need to make up for lost time. But writing can’t be rushed and neither can mothering. They require total presence and patience and I absolutely believe that I’ve brought those attributes from my writing to my mothering – when I’m with Daya, I’m focused on her.
Raising Mothers: Who are your writer-mama heroes?
Das: A writer-mama hero of mine is Mira Jacob. I love that she used difficult conversations with her growing son around race and identity as inspiration for Good Talk. I also love writers, mamas or not, who play a mothering role by mentoring marginalized writers. I think Minal Hajratwala, who was my mentor on my first book, embodies this role for BIPOC writers.
Raising Mothers: What three words describe you as a mother?
Das: Laughing, tender, amazed.
Raising Mothers: What three words describe you as a writer?
Das: Compassionate, critical, balanced.
Deesha Philyaw’s writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Brevity, TueNight and elsewhere. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, her collection of short stories about Black women, sex, and the Black church, is her fiction debut.
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