Mama's Writing

Elizabeth Acevedo | Mama’s Writing

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

How has the experience of raising children shaped your own personal growth as a writer and as an individual?

Very early on in my pregnancy I felt my writing shift; I moved towards two things: intentionality and thoughtful pacing. In those early days of gestation I often described myself as a crock pot: anything that needs to get done was going to happen low and slow. I carried that with me into these days of early motherhood. I don’t have an interest in racing anymore; in outpacing myself. The writing is slower, my patience with myself is soft. More than ever I just want to be here enjoying it all.  

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

Oh, this is a fun question. Let’s see…what immediately comes to the forefront is that I wish I had given myself permission early on to ask for help. It’s something I’ve always struggled with but listen, when you’re recovering from a c-section, desperately trying to figure out feedings, sleep deprived, that is the absolutely the moment to lean on community and I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t form my mouth to ask for help until I ended up in the ER. Those early days and my transition into motherhood would have been so much smoother if I had allowed the people who love me to love up on me. And knowing how I am, I think if I had let people know before I gave birth “Hey, I’m probably not going to know how to ask for XYZ, would you check in on me and ask me if I need this thing?” That would have made a world of difference.

How do you navigate societal expectations or stereotypes as a Black parent in your writing while staying true to your authentic voice?

I’m committed to telling the truth as I know it, and I’m committed to tenderness. I think those two pillars rise alongside each other in my work and hopefully act as bulwarks against cliches of a people.

What themes or topics do you find yourself drawn to explore in your work since becoming a parent, and why?

I’m not sure I can’t see it yet, honestly. I’ve always been interested in the domestic and as my language of experience expands into parental vocabulary I find that my thinking is still circling family, intergenerational stories, epigenetic inheritances, but honestly I’m plodding through the first draft of something and I don’t think I’m far enough along yet to see the influences that last 18 months have had on my work.

How do you handle creative challenges or setbacks?

I let myself feel the feelings. I’m a ruminator and I accept that about myself. I sit in the hurt and wash in it and it sucks when I’m in but when I finally leave the hurt and can look back and realize how it cured me. I don’t mean “cure” as in the antidote to an illness, I mean “cure” as in a curing season, the process by which something is moved from one phase to another. I think of setbacks as curing seasons. I just need to be in that stage until I have transformed into the version that has learned what I needed to learn from that challenge. 

How do you navigate the fine line between sharing personal experiences in your writing while respecting the privacy of your family?

This is tough and I think I’m still learning the fine line. I thought I did a good job in my last novel, which was deeply personal, but in retrospect I wonder if I could have been a bit more gentle with what I considered mine. In general, I think if it happened to me, it’s mine to make art with as I see fit. It’s my material. But I don’t know. I think my definition might be changing. Stay tuned.

How do you carve out time for self-care, down time, and creative expression? 

I cannot be a good person, mother, partner, daughter, if I don’t take the time. Finding respites is health care. And I find it’s very small actions: doing three minutes of sun salutations before my son is up in the morning. Doing deep breathing exercises before bed. Adding more grains and vegetables to my meals. Napping when my son naps as often as I can. My partner and I have a schedule and we create daily shifts so we each get time to exercise and decompress and to also engage one-on-one with the kid. It all adds up. 

How has your parenting journey impacted your perspective on your writing career and artistic aspirations?

Well, I’m currently in Australia for a writer’s festival, and before this I was in New Zealand. When the invitation first came I thought, “No way. I can’t leave my little one for two weeks.” And the more I sat with it, the more I realized I was excited by this opportunity and chose to take the adventure. But It’s hard. It’s hard to want all the things: bath time with my baby, international festivals that celebrate my work. I can’t have them both at the same time. I have to constantly think of balance. What does my heart need? What does my creative self need? What does my child need? Can I anticipate what need will need to be met this year? The next? How do I adjust when I find myself imbalanced? I am needing to practice a self-awareness and advocacy that is very muscular–I need to exercise both constantly. 

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

Ah, I am so lucky. I look at Jacqueline Woodson, Christine Platt, my good friend Naima Coster, Angie Cruz. I text questions, I ask how they did it or are doing it. Balancing it all. Loving on their kids, loving on their dreams. I steal the boundaries or approaches they share that work for me. Motherhood is about borrowing and adopting best practices and I look at the bravest writing mothers I know and try to walk in their steps. 

What advice would you give to other mothers who aspire to pursue their writing goals while raising a family?

Slow and low, mama. Every little word counts towards the goal. Every writing block you carve out time for adds up. What you make will feed what you made. Your mothering, I think, is improved by the self-reflection that comes from writing. Your writing is improved by the humility that comes from mothering. Your joys feed your joys. 

Who are your writer-mama heroes?

See my list above! But also: Toni Morrison, and Lucille Clifton, and Deesha Philyaw.

Elizabeth Acevedo is the New York Times-bestselling author of The Poet X, which won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Michael L. Printz Award, the Pura Belpré Award, the Carnegie medal, the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, and the Walter Award. She is also the author of numerous other titles including Family Lore; With the Fire on High, which was named a best book of the year by the New York Public Library, NPR, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal; and Clap When You Land, a Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor book and a Kirkus finalist. Acevedo has been a fellow of Cave Canem, Cantomundo, and a participant in the Callaloo Writer’s Workshops. She is a National Poetry Slam Champion, and resides in Washington, DC with her family.

Filed under: Mama's Writing


Sherisa de Groot (she/her) is a writer, community builder, and founder of Raising Mothers, literary membership community Literary Liberation, and pens A Home Within Myself. With a focus on intersectionality and social justice, de Groot’s writing explores the nuances of motherhood and the experiences of BIPOC mothers and marginalized genders. Through her work, she aims to amplify the voices of those who have been historically silenced and create a more equitable world for all. Her work has been featured in a variety of publications, including Kindred by Parents, Refinery 29, Mutha Magazine, and Oldster Magazine and she was a contributor to the book ‘100 Diverse Voices on Parenthood’ by A Kid’s Company About.