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 are my biggest supporters, my biggest fans. When I don’t feel motivated, they’re always like, “You can do it, mom! You are amazing!” Over the years, I took them to many of my readings. We all have to make choices about how we spend our time, and I have always worked full time. Sharing my writing with the public and spending quality time with my children could never be an either/or thing–it was always both/and. It was like, I’m going to do this reading and you’re going to come hang, especially since child care was not cheap. I’m sure–even if by osmosis–they got something positive out of the multiple readings they’ve attended over the years. And they are also a lot of fun to hang with. Awesome young humans.
Recently, I’ve been participating in the national book tour for the Black Fire—This Time anthology (Willow Books) and I’m very proud to have been included in this continuation of conversations that began in the Black Arts Movement. The theme is, “Black is Beautiful, Black is Powerful, Black is Home.” To be regarded as part of the new Black canon fills me with pride and motivates me to keep carrying the work forward. So much of my work is about interrogating what holds us back from becoming our best selves. Certainly the challenges Black people face in this country is fertile ground for writers concerned ultimately with how to get free.
Tell about a time mom-guilt emerged (or emerges) in the midst of your writing process.
My children are very creative. My daughter is a natural musician who can also sing and draw very well. My son is also a writer who likes deep investigation and building fantastic worlds. When they were much younger, they would constantly interrupt me to show me one creation or another, especially when I’d sit down to concentrate on some writing. I have felt guilty when the maximum amount of interruptions were reached and I had to go into my room and lock the door to meet a deadline. But I felt better knowing that I always explained to them what I was doing and why it was important to me. My hope was that this would model for them how to prioritize and focus on things that were important to them, and focus fully on those things until they were successfully completed.
If you could go back and give yourself advice before becoming a mom, what would it be?
I would tell younger me to take more time for myself and stop putting myself very last after making sure the family was ok. Lots of things we stress about when we first become parents, we realize later were not insurmountable problems. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20. You don’t really understand the process until you go through it for yourself. I wish I would have forced myself to spend more time away from the house engaging in self-care rituals, like pedicures and massages. Sometimes, these things help to reset us mentally. And you know, I always think of what Maya Angelou said, because it’s so true: “Nothing will work unless you do.”
What topics, artistic channels, or forms have become present that were not there before in your writing since becoming a parent?
Certainly, whimsy and fantasy always pulled me in a certain direction in my early writing. I think the work was often very philosophical, questioning, intellectual, very much in the head, in the realm of thinking–even when writing about emotions, I think I was thinking about them more than feeling them at one point. I kept them at a very safe distance. Well, let me tell you, there’s just nothing like pushing a whole human out into the world. Things got really real, really fast, and what was once theoretical became real life issues that I had to tackle in real time, with no one but me to figure them out. Topics like thin resources, balancing work and family time, a very changed body, moods and sides of my personality that were suppressed but which were teased to the surface as my children’s childhoods resurfaced memories about my own childhood. I found myself often laughing (and sometimes sobbing) while saying, “Well, there you are, aren’t you. I almost forgot where I buried you.” So I believe some of my poems became more present, working out in real time things that remained unresolved. Look, if you are a daughter of the African diaspora, from a place where people were formerly enslaved, like my birthplace Jamaica, that mother wound is going to be there. How could it not be? What could scores of women forced to reproduce teach you about mothering? And yet, they managed to. Some through volcanic tempers of unacknowledged rage, and some through the silence of one who has been permanently pushed down into submission. All these women are inside of us, and they want to speak. They want their stories to be told because every time they show their faces and dare to dream of more outside of the box of perpetual servitude, they are muted, labeled crazy, and disappear. They are speaking now in my writing and my art, and I’m loving it. I’m learning so much.
Do you ever find yourself dealing with censorship as a mom-writer? Explain your thoughts on your children eventually becoming acquainted with your work.
I’ve been so candid with them about everything I’ve been through–an abusive relationship, sexual assault, feelings of low self-worth, chronic anxiety. I really love this generation because they are ready and willing to talk about mental health, embrace therapy, and all sorts of modalities for healing. So, no, I don’t ever censor myself. When they are ready to encounter certain materials, they will. But I’ve been as transparent as I can with them about my strengths and my flaws. I feel like the avalanche of dysfunctional ways of engaging with the world and myself stops with me, because I know better, so I have to do better. And if I do better, it’s better for them. I give them permission and freedom to be vulnerable, angry, flaky, moody, to fail, and to try again. Black children deserve so much to be freed from the yoke of having to be perfect at all times just to function in this society. Being is messy, we should all be allowed to experience and grow at our own pace, and not be rushed into adulthood.
How has parenting bolstered or inhibited your creativity?
Time, time, time–there’s never enough of it. I don’t know if people understand how all consuming parenting is. The good thing that came out of that for me was excellent time management. I had to be really efficient with how I organized my time. At first, you sleep when the baby sleeps, but you’re still so tired. Then you learn, as they grow, to maximize that 30 minutes between the time you drop them off and when you have to get to work. I wrote three books that way–all after the age of 40.
How has the internet influenced you as both a writer and parent?
The internet has been a part of our lives for so long, I don’t know that I have an answer here. I utilize it for research and recreation (social media) but I don’t think it has had any major influence on my writing. There are still so many things in my head that need to get written, and it’s either on a piece of paper or on my laptop. When I’m writing, I don’t veer over to Google unless I need to fact check something.
How have other mother figures you have encountered in your community influenced your parenting? Your writing?
Community is so important. I have always actively sought community because I know that no one does anything difficult well when they’re tackling it all on their own. It’s been great over the years to connect with writer friends who are also mothers. We’ve shared resources and supported each other emotionally. It helps so much to know that whatever your highs and lows on the parenting journey, you can reach out to someone who understands what you’re going through.
How do you balance motherhood/parenting and finding the space to write?
As I mentioned earlier, discipline is a big factor. The spaces I have carved out to complete writing projects are not negotiable, and my family knows now that I consider my writing a sacred act, and I can’t be disturbed in whatever time I’ve set aside for myself. I prefer to do sprints for a major project (e.g., eight weeks of writing every weekend for a set number of hours and then taking a break for a few weeks). Once I make a plan and put it on my calendar, it becomes another routine, like brushing my teeth.
Who are your writer-mama heroes?
My friend Cheryl-Boyce Taylor is so dear to me. I admire her very much. She is serious about her writing practice and continually gives back to our community. And Lucille Clifton has been my North Star forever. This woman took every aspect of mundane life, parenting, loss, social issues, and turned them into incredibly beautiful and profound observations, all while raising children. I admire that strength and dedication so much.
Keisha-Gaye Anderson is a Jamaican-born poet, writer, visual artist, and communications and marketing strategist based in Brooklyn, NY. My debut poetry collection Gathering the Waters (Jamii Publishing 2014) was accepted into the Poets House Library and the National Library of Jamaica. I am the author of two other poetry collections: Everything Is Necessary (Willow Books 2019) and A Spell for Living (Agape 2020), which received the Editors’ Choice recognition for the Numinous Orisons, Luminous Origin Literary Award. The multimedia e-book includes my audio poems set to music and my original artwork. My poetry, fiction, and essays have been widely published in national literary journals, magazines, and anthologies that include Kweli Literary Journal, Small Axe Salon, Interviewing the Caribbean, Renaissance Noire, The Caribbean Writer, The Killens Review of Arts and Letters, Mosaic Literary Magazine, African Voices Magazine, The Langston Hughes Review, Streetnotes: Cross-Cultural Poetics, Caribbean in Transit Arts Journal, The Mom Egg Review, and others. I am a past participant of the VONA Voices and Callaloo writing workshops, a former fellow of the North Country Institute for Writers of Color, and was short-listed for the Small Axe Literary Competition. In 2018, I was selected as a Brooklyn Public Library Artist in Residence and my culminating work for that residency is part of a permanent installation at the Macon Library in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. My visual art has been featured in numerous exhibitions in the tri-state area and in such literary journals as The Adirondack Review, Joint Literary Magazine, MER VOX, Culture Push, and No, Dear Magazine. I began my career as a journalist, having written for national consumer magazines like Psychology Today, Teen People, Black Enterprise, and Honey, and working as a producer or associate producer on documentary programming for networks like CBS, PBS, and NHK (Japanese television). I currently work as a senior communications and marketing director at The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting emotional health and preventing suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults. I regularly teach English courses across The City University of New York and also lead writing workshops for non-profits and other organizations. I am a graduate of the Syracuse University Newhouse School and College of Arts and Sciences and hold an M.F.A. in creative writing from The City College, CUNY.