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Mama’s Writing | Nicole Chung

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


Are there days when you feel like a mother who writes, and others when you feel like a writer who is a mother?

Definitely, although I’d say even more common are days when I feel like an editor who writes—for me, it’s the day job, much more than my kids, that takes up much of the time I’d otherwise spend writing. It’s hard to complain, though, because I like editing so much. And I know that working with wonderful writers every day often inspires and feeds my other work.

Who are your writer-mama heroes?

So many, way too many to name, but a few just off the top of my head: Imani Perry, Lydia Kiesling, Crystal Hana Kim,
Taylor Harris.


What three words describe you as a writer?

Ha, tired? I try to be honest. Complicated—by which I mostly mean comfortable with complexity and gray areas, and deeply suspicious of pat, easy answers.

What surprised you about motherhood?

lol EVERYTHING, I knew nothing going in! I’m also adopted, so right from the start, all the physical things that are part of carrying and birthing a child and becoming a parent in that particular way felt like a mysterious tradition I had little connection to. I suppose the first huge surprise was just seeing what someone biologically related to me looked like. And then, too, I remember the moment I really recognized that my child was a part of me, in a way no one ever had been before, but she was also so much more than that—she was her own. She would do and say and think and be a million things I couldn’t foresee. I realized how much the work of parenthood would be letting go of any illusions I’d had about being in control of anything. Which was remarkably freeing, actually, more than terrifying.

What’s your least favorite thing about being a mother?

The worry! But that’s not the kids’ fault, that’s just how I am. I did not fully see or understand my own capacity to be anxious until they came along.

What are three words your kid(s) would use to describe you?

Busy—they see me working all the time, trying to juggle two careers and be their mom. But I think they also see me as approachable, always ready to talk. And I hope they think I’m pretty kind. I frequently say “yes” to dessert, anyway; that has got to count for something.

What’s the secret to surviving motherhood?

I think for me, the secret to surviving parenthood is the same as the secret to surviving anything tough/demanding: community. That can mean friendship and/or family, the group chats at all hours, whatever your own little village of support looks like. I think you need people to listen, even if they don’t always understand perfectly; people who always give the best advice, or at least perspective you didn’t know you needed; people who, when all else fails, will just sit with you and be joyful or sad or outraged with you. There are so many things about family life that no one can really make easy (or easier), but we can still be with, hold space for, and care for each other in community.


Nicole Chung is the author of the national bestseller All You Can Ever Know. Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, NPR, Library Journal, and many other outlets, All You Can Ever Know was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, a semifinalist for the PEN Open Book Award, an Indies Choice Honor Book, and an official Junior Library Guild Selection. Chung’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, GQ, TIME, The Guardian, and Vulture, among others, and she also writes a weekly parenting advice column for Slate. Her next book is forthcoming from Ecco Books/HarperCollins.

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Meet DW McKinney, Columns Senior Editor

Meet our Senior Columns Editor, DW McKinney (she/her). DW is a Black American essayist and interviewer living in Nevada. We asked her to share a bit more about herself in a new series we’re running for our editors. Here are DW’s 10 questions.

What are your writing rituals?
I have routines more than rituals. I alternate between editorial work and my personal writing in certain genres by day of the week. Wednesdays and weekends are for rest. I don’t listen to music while writing unless I need intense focus (heartbeat recordings) or high energy flows (hip-hop and [t]rap).

Who is a writer who inspires you and why?
NK Jemisin is amazing at worldbuilding and character development. Her characters are memorable and tangible to who we are in real life. I also love how she weaves cultural and social criticism in her work. She inspires me to dig deeper in my storytelling and to pull up a richness that I cannot yet fathom.

What book has a significant influence on you/your writing?
I talk about Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings often because it truly came to me at the right time in my childhood. It showed me how autobiography could be poetic. It educated me. It echoed parts of my personal life. It was a reflection of me. I felt a deep comfort in the pages and I am forever grateful.

Describe your dream submission.
My dream submission is one that elicits a strong response for me, whether that response is to shout or run or stop and evaluate my own life. I don’t want to be a passive viewer in whatever the writer is describing. I want to be pulled under and through alongside them.

Why does writing matter to you?
When I was growing up, I often felt like I couldn’t talk about certain things. I couldn’t use my entire voice, so I wrote. My journals became safe spaces for me to ask questions and express myself without fear of retribution. Now, writing continues to be an expression of the whole me and a medium for me to explore and become happily lost in the unknown.

What are you currently reading?
I’m reading EMBODIED: An Intersectional Comics Poetry Anthology edited by Wendy and Tyler Chin-Tanner. It blends poetry and graphic illustrations created by cis female, trans, and non-binary poets and artists.

How do you create joy?
Most of my joy lately comes from surrendering to happy moments. Because of the traumas in these past few years, I tend to speed through positive moments. Now I’m learning to wade in them to find happiness that becomes the kind of joy that feeds my spirit.

How do you create space to write?
I create hard boundaries and set a schedule that allows for a minimum of 2-4 writing hours each weekday, except for Wednesdays when I rest. Boundaries keep all the other needs (and wants) separate from time that’s just for me. I don’t run errands during writing time. If the house is on fire, I trust that there is another person who can put it out while I mind my business.

What do you love about Raising Mothers?
I love that Raising Mothers creates room for the universality of motherhood. I see more of myself, my mother, my grandmothers, my aunties, and my friends in every poem, essay, and story that is published.

What projects are you currently working on?
I am querying my memoir manuscript and working on an essay collection.


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Some Mothers II

Some
Some mothers
Some mothers spend
Some mothers spend every
Some mothers spend every moment
Some mothers spend every moment waiting
Some mothers spend every moment waiting for
Some mothers spend every moment waiting for the
Some mothers spend every moment waiting for the message
Some mothers spend every moment waiting for the message that
Some mothers spend every moment waiting for the message that reads
Some mothers spend every moment waiting for the message that reads Hello
Some mothers spend every moment waiting for the message that reads Hello Mama
Some mothers spend every moment waiting for the message that reads Hello Mama
I
Some mothers spend every moment waiting for the message that reads Hello Mama
I am
Some mothers spend every moment waiting for the message that reads Hello Mama
I am safe


Image by Niklas Kickl

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Some Mothers III

Some
Some mothers
Some mothers are black
Some mothers are black and
Some mothers are black and blue
Some mothers are black and blue on
Some mothers are black and blue on the
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and inside
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and inside and
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and inside and have
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and inside and have to
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and inside and have to choke
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and inside and have to choke back
Their
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and inside and have to choke back  Their fury
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and inside and have to choke back Their fury and
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and inside and have to choke back
Their fury and rage
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and inside and have to choke back Their fury and rage an
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and inside and have to choke back Their fury and rage an acid
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and inside and have to choke back their fury and rage an acid reflux
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and inside and have to choke back Their fury and rage an acid reflux drifting
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and inside and have to choke back
Their fury and rage an acid reflux drifting down
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and inside and have to choke back
Their fury and rage an acid reflux drifting down their throats
Some mothers are black and blue on the outside and inside and have to choke back Their fury and rage an acid reflux drifting down their throats
Building like a Santa Ana wind stoking fire in a dry California season


Image by Tess Wilcox

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Mother

Dearest mother,
I’ve fallen in and out of love more times than I can gather
And where have you been through it all?
dearest love, sincerest mother
Breasts I once clung to
But was never allowed to tether
Dearest mother,
mommy, please
Where have you been?
Nudged from the nest
‘Cause you thought indulgent affection was a sin
So I learned to fly and never to crawl
Never to be weak and on my knees,
Never given permission
to bawl
Where have you been?
Through it all.
Mother
Not just a noun, but a verb
Beloved mother,
Be loved.
If not by me then please,
Lord,
by another.
I pray by me, one day,
Concurrent mother and daughter.


Image by Juarte Cesnaite

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