Conversations Archive, Mama's Writing

Mama’s Writing | Celeste C. Smith

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?

No. I would have to say, I always feel like a mother who writes. For me, my writing has never taken first place or even shared first place. My life’s work, for the last 20+ years, has been in service to supporting artists who are artists first. Whether through communicated encouragement or financial support, my work has always centered on showing folks they can.  Funny how sometimes you don’t see it so clearly for yourself. But when I do, I like to imagine living in a beach house adjacent to the Atlantic, writing in balmy 87 degree weather exorcising this novel out of me. I am patient and believe that the time for me to write full-time is coming and it will be abundantly clear. 

What three words describe you as a mother?

Mindful, apologetic, and open.

What fictional mother gets on your nerves?

Kate McAllister [from the movie Home Alone]. Not that she should have to face the brunt of leaving her child home alone all by herself…the Dad can definitely catch these hands too…but the question was about moms.

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

Empathetic. Black. Kind. 

What’s the worst motherhood advice you’ve ever gotten?

I was once told that mothers raise the boys until seven and then it’s the fathers turn. This is patriarchal bullshit. If both parents are available, willing, and able, both parents should raise the children the entire time. Functioning under this ideology put a lot of undue stress and responsibility on the mother. If a mom doesn’t have a partner, she still needs the entire tribe from the get go.  

Knowing that your children will read your work at some point, how does that impact your candor when writing?

It doesn’t. I am very candid with my children. I don’t write, say, or do anything that I wouldn’t want them to know about, because it’s all going to come out anyway. If I write something that I think would embarrass or be misunderstood by them, I talk to them about it. My oldest is 20, so if he runs across something, he will ask.

What makes you a bad-ass mother?

I don’t think I’m a bad-ass mother. I think I try just like all the other mothers. I admit my mistakes and try to let my children choose their own paths. I think, if anything, my acute understanding that you can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to do has shaped the type of mom I am. I remember trying to get our youngest child to go to sleep and he was so damn stubborn.  He wouldn’t go to sleep until he was ready. My daughter is queer, though she was raised Muslim. My oldest has always found ways to do exactly what he wanted to do, supported or not. So, my practice is to support them. To give them the best advice we can. Be here for them in the way you would have wanted your parents to be. 

Photo credit: sarah huny young

Celeste C. Smith is senior program officer for Arts and Culture for The Pittsburgh Foundation where she is working to advance racial justice, center the voices of people and communities most impacted by racism, and respond to critical community issues. She is a national 2018 SXSW Community Service Award honoree with deep experience as a non-profit and community leader, arts administrator, individual artist, and activist. She is the co-founder and prior chief executive officer of 1Hood Media whose mission is to build liberated communities through art, education, and social justice. She is also the manager of Pittsburgh-based hip hop artist Jasiri X. Celeste is a graduate of Chatham University and has served on the Transformative Arts Process Advisory Board at The Heinz Endowments, the Pittsburgh Symphony Community Advisory Council, and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council Equity in Arts Funding Research Committee, and was appointed to the national Grantmakers in the Arts’ Support for Individual Artists Committee and to the Americans for the Arts Arts Education Network Advisory Council. She is a frequent invited panelist and presenter at local and national events and conferences. Celeste continues to produce her own artistic works, most recently appearing in the literary anthology, Tender: a literary anthology and book of spells: evidence.

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Filed under: Conversations Archive, Mama's Writing


Deesha Philyaw’s debut short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the 2020/2021 Story Prize, and the 2020 LA Times Book Prize: The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies focuses on Black women, sex, and the Black church, and is being adapted for television by HBO Max with Tessa Thompson executive producing. Deesha is also a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow.