Mama’s Writing is Raising Mothers’ monthly interview series, curated by Deesha Philyaw.
Who are your writer-mama heroes?
My mom, first—she was a single mother and academic who worked 2-3 jobs at any time and raised 2 children while being very present with our lives. Then, feminist writer peers who I’ve gotten to know in a closer way as they create art, pursue activism and/or teach in competitive positions, and raise one or more children. Shoutout here to my mentors during my time at UCLA and Bennington College—Françoise Lionnet, Shu-mei Shih, Angie Cruz and Jill McCorkle. I learned so much by simply watching them live their lives on a daily basis. Shoutout to writer-friends Aline Ohanesian and Shilpa Agrawal who kept it real for me when I got pregnant and tried to figure how to raise a child in harmony with my own personality. Shoutout to peers with whom I’ve talked about motherhood, in bigger or smaller ways, and felt seen and heard: Jasminne Mendez, Chaya Bhuvaneswar, Anjali Enjeti, Lydia Keisling, Shenaz Patel, and fierce single mothers, Sonora Jha and Pooja Makhijani. My sheroes are also editors like Sherisa De Groot and Kelly Glass who are expanding the conversations on motherhood in a pioneering way, especially through Black motherhood, queer parenting, and more. Louise Erdrich and Camille Dungy are sheroes for the books they have written on early motherhood that I deeply love. Last but not the least, my sheroes are most working mothers of color in North America who are writing and editing and/or teaching and raising children, all demanding labors in themselves that is compounded by the emotional labor of having to navigate systemic oppression in different spheres of one’s life on a daily basis: the late Toni Morrison and Bharati Mukherjee, Tiphanie Yanique, Bich Minh Nguyen, Kaitlyn Greenidge, Rohini Bannerjee, and you Deesha first come to mind. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it’s a gift to be surrounded by so many role models.
How have other mother figures you have encountered in your community influenced your parenting? Your writing?
I’ve learned a lot, unconsciously perhaps, by watching the women in my immediate and extended families, in my South Asian community at large too. Most mothers I know here are fiercely devoted to their family. I can only hope that their sense of loyalty, care and unconditional love toward their family members, especially their children, has rubbed off me in a good way. That said, I’m also aware that people are full of contradictions, and mother figures (including me) here are no exception. So I try hard to not be like many mothers in my community, hierarchy-driven when it comes to age and seniority, and with an assumption that parents needn’t consider or respect boundaries when it comes to the lives of their children.
As I shared, other mothers who influence my parenting in a positive way are writers and creatives with whom I’ve been able to have more personal chats and who allow me to embrace the fact that it’s okay to drop a few balls as a parent and to be open with our children when we trip on the road. That it’s okay to be a contradiction as long as it doesn’t harm our children, or us for that matter, and as long as we continue to bring consciousness to the paradoxes we embody as human beings.
Motherhood influences my writing to the extent that I try to write about it—in both fiction and nonfiction—and break the silences within my community that I wish someone had broken for me when I got pregnant and looked for a roadmap.
What surprised you about motherhood?
As a married cis mother of a three-year-old, what blew me away was the degree of silence elders in brown communities maintain on how much pressure new and early parenting puts on middle-class working parents, especially in countries like the United States with exorbitant childcare costs and nuclear family settings for many. This pressure gets even more intense for mothers who navigate heterodomesticity within a capitalist patriarchy where domestic labor and care work are still shouldered by women to a greater degree, and largely invisible. The widespread silence around how new and early parenting impacts both motherhood and marriage is still a conundrum to me.
How has motherhood changed your literary purpose?
Not sure motherhood has changed my purpose in a fundamental way. I’m still as interested as in my pre-kids days in thinking about the intersection of storytelling and social justice, especially via a lens of race, gender and migration. So much of my work of over a decade across genres centers brown migrant women in one way or another. Now though, I write more explicitly about the latter through motherhood, whether it’s in my newer works-in-progress, or in my novel, Border Less, where I also thought very consciously about how motherhood alters the form of the novel for me. I wrote about some of this in an essay for Poets & Writers too; it’s called “Becoming a Mother-Writer.”
How does engaging with your child creatively influence your own creative process?
Children are very imaginative by nature, as you know. In hanging out with a preschooler these days, in watching him play, and in playing with him, I love seeing how unhindered his creativity is by what we adults perceive as rational thought or logic. For instance, the other day, my son created a carwash out of a toddler chair on our bathroom floor while I was taking a shower. And he waited with earnestness and patience as each of the items he arranged in a line got their turn at a wash: a few cars, a choo-choo train, a pickup truck, a dinosaur and toddler socks, in that order. It was a sharp reminder on what a sham realism is, and how as human beings, we are not “naturally” driven by logic. As an American literary writer publishing within a landscape that reveres realism, quiet, everyday parental moments like the above remind me how much of what we are taught to perceive as good art is a construct. It frees me, if only at a more unconscious level, to hear me in my work over “the system,” if this makes sense.
How do you balance motherhood and finding the space to write?
Not sure I can use the word “balance” yet, when it comes to pursuing a writing life alongside freelance writing and teaching and motherhood to a 3-year-old in a pandemic. My son is away for 8 hours each weekday which leaves me about 5-6 hours of work hours (excluding lunchtime, yoga, meditation, commute time to a local library, and few minutes of break to recharge between work sessions) and once he returns home, an hour of worktime after he falls asleep by when I’m usually [too] exhausted already for quality work. These weekly hours never feel enough for writing, teaching, meetings with colleagues, email and administrative responsibilities including the maintenance of an online presence for my writing via social media, and these days, another full-time job of birthing an indie debut without much of a PR budget. COVID-19 has brought further precarity to this life situation, and I’ve to stay prepared every moment to drop my agenda for the day and attend to that text message from daycare that’s readjusting yet again its schedule because someone tested positive, again.
That said, early motherhood within a pandemic has forced me to flow more with the present moment, to plan as much as I can in advance yet also to surrender control toward my vision, to be more patient with myself and with other people, and to trust when things don’t go my way. These skills don’t feel highly convenient because I used to be very structured with my professional life, but they are good life skills to practice, and they do bring a different kind of balance to my life with writing and parenting.
What’s your favorite thing about being a mother?
Nibbling at my son’s cheeks one too many times in a day, and not feeling like I’m intruding on his space in doing so. Although I know this will change for both of us as he grows older.
Photo credit: Elena Bessi
Namrata Poddar writes fiction and nonfiction, serves as Interviews Editor for Kweli, and teaches literature as well as creative writing at UCLA. Her work has appeared in several publications including Poets & Writers, Literary Hub, Longreads, The Kenyon Review, Electric Literature, Catapult, and The Best Asian Short Stories. Her debut novel, Border Less, is releasing in North America in March 2022 from 7.13 Books, and later this year in South Asia from Harper Collins. She holds a PhD in French literature from the University of Pennsylvania, an MFA in Fiction from Bennington College, and a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Transnational Cultures from UCLA. Find her on Twitter, @poddar_namrata, and on Instagram, @writerpoddar.
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