Mama’s Writing is Raising Mothers’ monthly interview series, curated by Starr Davis.
What recent writing accomplishment(s) are you most proud of? Was this accomplishment shared and supported by your children?
My children always tell me I don’t share my accomplishments with them. It’s actually a joke in my house because my youngest son always Googles me to see if I have anything new going on. For the longest time, I didn’t think that they were interested in my work. Now, I’m better at including them in my “writing world.” Most recently, we celebrated my completion of a book project titled: No One Can Arrest Our Dreams. My kids are teaching me how to appreciate and celebrate every milestone.
Tell about a time mom-guilt emerged (or emerges) in the midst of your writing process.
There are times when I have a good writing weekend. In those moments, the natural breaks don’t happen, and I seize the moment just to write. But that also means that I have to make up for the time lost with my children. They are always understanding, but I feel tremendous guilt about it because they are older now. The life I built around mothering and writing will soon shift in a way I’m not prepared for yet. So, I want to spend as much time with them as possible.
If you could go back and give yourself advice before becoming a mom, what would it be?
I’ve been a mom my entire adult life. So, it’s hard to think about writing as something separate from parenthood. But reflecting on everything I’ve learned on my writing journey, the advice I would give myself is: “Just write. Do not be silenced by what you think other people will think or say about you.”
What topics, artistic channels, or forms have become present that were not there before in your writing since becoming a parent?
The whole internet, lol! Access to writing platforms and social media has helped me embrace being a writer as part of my identity. Two decades ago, I could only access writing in books. It was nearly impossible for me to find opportunities that would allow me to grow and develop as a thinker and writer. Now there are opportunities to meet people and develop writing communities online. These platforms feel like an extension of me.
Do you ever find yourself dealing with censorship as a mom-writer? Explain your thoughts on your children eventually becoming acquainted with your work.
Most of what I write has an academic lens; therefore, it is kid-safe. However, I believe some topics I would like to write about; I may never do so because I have to protect my children. It is one thing to tell them about experiences from my past, and it’s another for me to write them down. Then it becomes real, and we all have to live with it. I’m not sure if I want to burden them with the weight of reading about and sitting with my past traumas. However, I would like to share some of my truths and experiences to inspire others, help them heal, and find ways to cope with adversity. So maybe in the future, I will learn how to be more vulnerable in my writing.
How has parenting bolstered or inhibited your creativity?
Parenting has bolstered my creativity. Being a mother gives my writing purpose. Without my children, I may not have the same urgency to write for a better future. When I write about injustices in the world, I’m not just gazing abstractedly at the pain but drawing on a place of lived and potential hurt because I have children. I have Black children, two sons, and a daughter. My desire to see them safe, happy, and thriving in life pushed me to write about injustice. As 2Pac said, “I may not be the one who changes the future, but maybe I will spark the brain that does.”
Was there a noticeable shift in your writing before and after parenthood? If yes, how so?
I wrote all the time when I was younger because that was my escape—writing captured my pain. After my daughter was born, I began documenting my life because if anything happened to me, I wanted her to know me and to have a legacy. But as a parent, I had to write for a greater purpose: to look beyond myself and critique our society.
How has the internet influenced you as both a writer and parent?
The internet expanded my writing world. I can read about other people’s stories and issues that I may not otherwise know about. Combining my knowledge from books, personal experiences, and what I see of the world, I take a proactive approach to writing and parenting. I always wonder: How do I use what I know to prevent problems in my family and other families? For example, if I know my Black sons could face imminent danger if they come into contact with law enforcement, it’s up to me to teach them how to respond in those situations. Then, I can write about how Black boys have a right to life, love, and the freedom to exist without fear.
How have other mother figures you have encountered in your community influenced your parenting? Your writing?
I grew up with a strong connection to my family because my earliest years were transient. I leaned on them for support and guidance. My maternal grandmother, Clarice, stressed the importance of caring for your loved ones. But lately, I have thought about my father’s oldest sister, Olivia. Everyone called her “Sister” or “Aunt Sister.” She was a stay-at-home mother and lived a very simple life. I never saw her in a bad mood. She taught me so much about parenting–the “back home” techniques she learned in Mississippi from her mother, my grandmother (also named Olivia), whom I never met. I think about them both. These women carried so much love and wisdom but did not have access to literacy as I do. Aunt Sister was one of my earliest examples of Mothering, and I hope I embody some of what she taught me so her knowledge can live on. Because of these women, as a writer, I speak with care and compassion. As a Mother, I love and protect. My commitment to integrity and justice comes from my admiration for Aunt Sister and my grandmothers. I’m actually named after both my grandmothers and aunt: Clarice Olivia. I always felt like my parents’ attempt to honor their mothers created extra pressure for me to strive for greatness. So, in hindsight, I suppose I encountered my first and most significant mother-influences when my mom and dad named me.
How do you balance motherhood/parenting and finding the space to write?
Balance, what’s that?! I feel like I’m always “stealing time” to do both, because I am super engaged as a mother and writer. I structured my life to live and exist in both roles. My writing is best first thing in the morning, and sometimes it wakes me out of my sleep. I keep a pen and notebook beside my bed or use my phone to capture my thoughts. Every day, I wake up before my children and write for about an hour. Then I try to schedule another hour of writing, at some point. I pick my kids up from school in the afternoon, and the next 2-3 hours are dedicated to them. We cook and eat dinner, watch our TV shows, and talk about our days. The blessing for me is being an academic. Therefore, I don’t have a traditional schedule, and writing is one element of the work I do. That makes it easier to have some balance, even when I feel like there are not enough hours in the day to be a good mother and writer.
Who are your writer-mama heroes?
I honestly never thought about writer-mamas. I see mothers as essential pillars in our families and communities, so the mamas who write feel like normal contributors to our world of literary excellence. I admire mothers because in spite of it all, and despite the rest, we get it done. But those mothers who share their truths unapologetically, with love and vulnerability, are my heroes and inspiration.
Clarice O. Thomas, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of African American Studies and School of Education at Saint Louis University. She is a 2021-2022 PEN America Writing for Justice Fellow. Clarice is a storyteller who uses narrative writing to address educational injustice and mass incarceration issues. Her work has appeared in academic journals, book chapters, and national and international conferences. She is currently working on two book projects: No One Can Arrest Our Dreams and Emancipating Our Legacy, which addresses systemic racism in our schools and prisons. Clarice is a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the mother of three children.