Mama’s Writing | Toya R. Smith

Mama’s Writing is Raising Mothers’ monthly interview series, curated by Deesha Philyaw.

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Toya R. Smith is a mother, a daughter, a sister, a Titi, a Black girl from West Baltimore. An Aborisha, a Blitch, a Conjurewoman. More than anything, she is a curator of joy. Her publication credits include TueNight and deadhousekeeping.

 

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? 

Toya R. Smith: At this stage in the game, I feel like a woman who is a mother and likes to write. I don’t identify as a mother, if that makes sense. I’m a woman. A Black woman. A Black woman who does many things, primary among them – mothering. I also write and dance and do makeup and read bones and on and on.

I’m waiting for that moment when I feel like a capital W Writer and beyond that, an Author. I think once I’ve had my pieces published in a few different outlets, get paid for it, and folks engage with the things I’ve written, I’ll feel like a Writer. But when I see my book on a shelf with Maya’s and Toni’s and Octavia’s and Stephen’s … well, then … Bitch, you’re an Author!

Raising Mothers: How has parenting influenced your writing?

Smith: When I was pregnant and thinking about what motherhood would look like, I decided that I would make sure I kept a part of my life that was just for me. A part my child didn’t touch. Writing is one of those parts. Sometimes I let her read pieces, but so far, parenting hasn’t made its way into my writing. This part of me belongs to me. Just like her singing and her painting belong to her. We cheer each other on and nothing is better than hearing her say she enjoys something I wrote, but I don’t need her to be in it, if you know what I mean. If she’s influenced my writing in any way, it’s because parenting is another aspect of my womanhood. I’ve grown and my mind has expanded, my imagination has increased.

Raising Mothers: How has writing influenced your parenting?

Smith: Well, my daughter just turned 17, so the beauty of this part of parenting is that she spends a lot of time entertaining herself. I finally have time to devote to writing. There’s such beauty in creating rituals around how and when I write, from making sure that I have a cup of hot tea with honey, lime, and lemon on hand to creating playlists for different genres/moods. I love that when she sees me sitting in front of the computer typing away or with my notebook in hand jotting down thoughts about future pieces, she’ll walk past and kiss the top of my head or pat my shoulder, but she doesn’t disturb me. It’s wonderful for her to see me this way and respect what I’m doing.

Raising Mothers: Who are your writer-mama heroes?

Smith: Oh, Toni Morrison. Because she was TONI MORRISON while mothering and belonged to an entire circle of Black women authors doing the same – either mothering or otherwise handling life outside of their writing. Her works have changed my life. Her works have loved and lived and breathed Blackness. Toni taught me that the worlds I write can be entirely Black and that’s valid – that all the people are Black and that isn’t strange or defiant or radical. Blackness is. 

Raising Mothers: What three words describe you as a mother?

Smith: Open. Fun. Encouraging. (I asked Sarai and these are the words she gave me.)

Raising Mothers: What three words describe you as a writer?

Smith: Cheeky. Raunchy. Real.


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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