Mama's Writing

Dr. Donja Thomas | Mama’s Writing

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?

The most recent writing accomplishment I am most proud of right now is a piece I wrote that represents my unique voice and style as an afro-futurist author. It is an encouraging story of hope, love and purpose meant to inspire and engage human spiritual memory. I definitely had my children and young generations in mind as I created it. I personally believe that every soul has a vital role to play in helping all of us ascend higher as a collective society and each generation must be affirmed in knowing the power and purpose they possess in order to bring about better tomorrows. This story seeks to serve as a manifesto of prophecy and strength for those who read it. It also is the chrysalis behind my emerging writings that are currently in the making. 

Tell about a time mom-guilt emerged (or emerges) in the midst of your writing process.

As a mother of a 6 year old and 3 year old daughter, presently I am trying to establish a writing routine that allows me to be fully present with them while also centering myself as a creative.  As an educator who also develops her own curriculums while teaching and nurturing over one hundred students daily, my role as ‘mother’ extends beyond my own biological children. I cannot help but to do my best to be a light for all ‘young people’ in whatever way that manifests. I’m engaged in a constant push and pull with my physical endurance, my mental capacity, my heart space, and my spiritual wellness. Mom-guilt therefore emerges on the regular in different ways. 

My time with my wonderful daughters outside of ‘work’ is priceless but unfortunately, not limitless. They are the epitome of joy and unconditional love and I refuse to take any time I have with them for granted. This is why I try to be as intentional as possible when it comes to being present and accessible towards their needs and wants but this definitely comes at a cost.  As I fully invest in them and handle all other life obligations, I find myself with much less energy than I started with and have less time to write. I am learning, however, that when I don’t write, I am not fulfilled and this leads me to be self-critical. This energy is not good for me or for anyone else I love for that matter, so I’m presently taking steps towards finding a balance that still centers my children while also honoring my personal needs. 

If you could go back and give yourself advice before becoming a mom, what would it be?

“Be Kind to your mom. It’s her first time living, too.”

One of my students recently shared this quote with me after class one day after seeing my TEDxTalk and realizing that I wore many more hats than just the ‘Dr. Thomas’ they learn with everyday in the classroom. She said that she was grateful for my example because we all have one life and that I had done so much already.  It resonated with me because it forced me to recognize the tremendous pressure I was putting on myself to always do more and be more without celebrating what I was doing and had already accomplished as a creative and mother. It was a wake up call to give myself more grace along my journey as I am actively teaching my children and students not just ‘what’ they can accomplish but ‘how’ to honor their voyage through life. It also was an admonition to share my humanness with my children so that they learn that I am not just their mom but a person too. 

My advice to myself before becoming a mom is to breathe more and make meditation an essential practice, that changing the pace and even course towards my dreams is not a sign of weakness but a sign of evolution, to not be afraid to ask for help, and to not be so hard on myself based on unrealistic expectations. Motherhood can be so self sacrificial and trying to be a perfect mom and wife takes its toll.  Trying to do it all and be everything for everybody is exhausting and is not sustainable.  It’s important to remember that I am more than just a mother. I am more than just a creative. I am a real human being with a soul’s purpose all my own. I must be kind to myself for this life is not just about the destinations but the journey.  

What topics, artistic channels, or forms have become present that were not there before in your writing since becoming a parent?

Since becoming a parent, there have been many artistic channels that have become more present in my writing.  One of them is the concept of divine appointment. This is the idea that there is no coincidence behind when people come into your life, that events happen as they should, and revelations occur at the very moments they should be acted upon. Spirit sets up such encounters because we need whatever these appointments offer us. This also lends itself to understanding that we experience our lives ‘on’ and ‘in’ purpose. 

I have embraced this concept throughout my life, but my personal experience as a mother has affirmed this truth for me in ways that has expanded my vision and has asserted itself through my voice as a writer.  The magic that has been conjured in my life through the existence of my daughters feels celestial and within my writing, it has brought forth new fruit even as I have brought forth new life. I now view my writing as a blessing channel for those intended to hear its messages. 

Do you ever find yourself dealing with censorship as a mom-writer? Explain your thoughts on your children becoming acquainted with your work.

I don’t really find censorship to be an issue as a writer since I believe creatives are vessels used to channel art and the messages that come through are meant to be what they are. My background as an educator also keeps me mindful that I am a teacher, first and foremost, who seeks to serve, preserve and protect human dignity and cultural legacy. I write with anticipation of my children, young people and all people reading my works as sources of enlightenment, pride, dignity, self-respect and spiritual gratification.

How has parenting bolstered or inhibited your creativity? 

Parenting has definitely bolstered my creativity as it has made me more susceptible to tapping back into the passions and dreams I found to be so captivating in my youth.  Children truly are amazing muses for art creation as they can remind you of how carefree and uninhibiting life was before the indoctrination of conformity and societal norms. Engaging with the boisterous joy of my daughters and their unwavering authentic expressions of their hearts desires is so inspiring. I am reminded of when I was a child and reading and writing was like breathing for me. I don’t remember a time in my childhood where there wasn’t a book; where there wasn’t a story I wasn’t attempting to write. It was a magical time and I can honestly say that I am beginning to feel as convicted, liberated and optimistic about the possibilities and promise of my writing now as I did then. 

Was there a noticeable shift in your writing before and after parenthood? If yes, how so?

The biggest notable shift was the subject matter from which I wrote about.  My writing before parenthood was geared more towards personal narrative and academic writing because that was the space I was in at the time. I have a lot of experience in higher education as an student, educational researcher and critical educator and my writing reflected my endeavors to express Black cultural influence and significance in these environments too often void of our contributions of excellence.  I defended my dissertation 8 weeks after giving birth to my first born daughter, so at the same time I was finishing my dissertation and gearing up to receive my Ph.D., I was also reading children’s stories to my baby every evening before putting her to bed.  Engaging with stories that I had not read since my youth brought me back to my love for creative writing. It helped me remember how much I loved to write for the love of it, not just out of the obligation of it. This set me on the path I am now currently on as a writer. 

How has the internet influenced you as both a writer and parent? 

Overall, the internet has been a good influence for me as both a writer and parent.  As someone who has always been an independent thinker and cultural enthusiast, the internet has been a great resource for finding valuable material and information that supports my work as an creative and conscious parent. Whether it be granting me access to lectures by my favorite scholars, witnessing rare video footage of important cultural events, reading articles that share great ideas and practices towards conscious parenting, or acquiring art and literature from creatives across the globe, the internet has provided great opportunities for me to gain insights and inspiration that support my growth as a mother, life long learner and world citizen.  At the same time that I use it as a resource, I know it can also be dangerous if relied upon for internal validation. So as a writer, I do my best to stay grounded and present in my actual real life experiences.  As a parent, I’m trying to stay in tune and in touch with not only what my children are exposed to on the internet but also how they internalize what they see.  

All in all, I try to engage in thoughtful internet practices for myself and with my children as we figure out how to navigate this new world of technology together.  

How have other mother figures you have encountered in your community influenced your parenting? Your writing?

Motherhood is truly sacred and as a woman who has been blessed to have the influence of some amazing mother figures throughout my life, I feel honored to be a part of a legacy that is so much bigger than me. To be a mother is to be a teacher and I have been taught by so many different women who had a hand in my development as a woman still becoming.  Some teachers are meant to show you the importance of patience while some are meant to show you the significance of humility.  Some teachers are meant to show you the keys to confidence while some are meant to show you the causes of self-doubt. Every mother is appointed and has a lesson their children are destined to learn from them; even in their absence.  This is wisdom I have gained since becoming a mother and I carry the greatest respect for the humanness of all mothers.  It is through their humanity that I find comfort in their fellowship. It is through their humanity that garners me the confidence to be honest about my own shortcomings in order to  seek advocacy and strength to break generational cycles that create new standards of acceptance for my own daughters. It is through communion with resilient women that I am fueled to continue on my journey of self-discovery, self-confidence, and self-love. For as these women believe in my capabilities to embody greatness, I too pass on the same fierce encouragement and commitment to my loved ones and community. 

How do you balance motherhood/parenting and finding the space to write?

I think the balance of motherhood/parenting and finding space to write will be a constant evolutionary experience that will change as life changes. Right now, this looks like going to bed earlier so that I can wake up during the peaceful ‘magic hours’ of the morning to write.  This could look different in coming months but I am determined to stay active in my craft. Therefore, I am learning to adjust accordingly. The problem, however, is that within my busy life, ‘adjusting’ has resulted too often in my writing being the last priority; as if it is disposable in comparison to all the other hats I wear. I am just now finding the courage to prioritize and protect my art.  This in and of itself is a form of self-care and there are a few elements of self-care that I am presently choosing to give more attention. 

One of those elements is rest. How can one create from a place of fatigue? How can one be inspired if they are pouring out more than they have to give. Wasn’t it Audre Lorde who said, ‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare’?! Well, I am stepping into my warrior energy this season with determination to preserve self by any means necessary. This means allowing myself more rest. 

Another element I need to utilize more is the resource of community.  One reason I was able to complete the question responses for this very article is because my mother in law agreed to watch my daughters for a few hours so I could garner some uninterrupted time to write.  Her support is not only appreciated but necessary in that it provides relief and encouragement towards the fulfillment of my personal goals. Many talk about the importance of self-care but is it really possible without accessing the role of the collective?  I am learning that community is essential and I must not be afraid to advocate support from those who can help.  

Who are your writer-mama heroes?

There are so many writer-mama’s I look up to but those that quickly come to mind are Toni Morrison, Sonia Sanchez, Maya Angelou, Virginia Hamilton, Mildred Taylor and Jesmyn Ward.  These women and their amazing contributions to literature continue to inspire my purpose, voice, endurance, vision, imagination, and confidence as a writer.  They remind me to keep going, to always do work that I am proud of and to make my ‘being’ my work of art. 

Dr. Donja Thomas is a passionate educator, activist, scholar, Black Studies/Critical Studies curriculum developer, and creative nonfiction & afro-futurist writer.  She is the recipient of the 2022 NCTE High School Teacher of Excellence Award, the 2021 OCTELA Outstanding English Language Arts Educator Award, and the 2016 Dr. Alivia Bozeman Critical Educator Award from The Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology. She has authored several publications centering the role of Black studies, Black culture and literacy in education.

Her writing explores themes of Black excellence, cultural identity, spiritual consciousness, reclamation, ancestral intelligence, and liberation through self-knowledge.  She is currently living in Columbus, OH with her husband and two daughters. 

Filed under: Mama's Writing


Starr Davis (she/her) is a poet and essayist whose work has been featured in multiple literary venues such as The Kenyon Review, Academy of American Poets' Poem-a-Day, the Rumpus, and Catapult. She is a 2021–2022 PEN America Writing for Justice Fellow and the creative nonfiction editor for TriQuarterly. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the City College of New York and a BA in journalism and creative writing from the University of Akron. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in poetry and creative nonfiction, Best of the Net, and Best American Essays.