Mama's Writing

Nicole Dennis-Benn | 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?

I have a lot more patience with myself and in general. I know things cannot always get done, and forgive myself if I’m not meeting those expectations of myself. I have also become very mindful of my time. I only go to important literary events and/or say yes only to paid gigs that are worth leaving my family for.

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

Nothing really. Nothing can really prepare one for parenting. You just take the plunge and learn to swim.

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

I tend to focus on generational traumas and how they shape us. I also delve into mother-daughter relationships a lot, given the importance of that relationship as it relates to our understanding of ourselves as women in society. My goal as a writer is usually to humanize individuals; allow the reader to see the world through their eyes, their perspective, their experiences. In my novel, PATSY, for instance, I challenge the reader to take off their lens and remove the label of “mother” and see the individual. Folks tend to put mothers on a pedestal, and thus begin to see mothers as martyrs, saints, or asexual beings. I write against those stereotypes.

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

I am still drawn to themes of identity: be it race, gender, sexuality, class. I am also still interested in writing about the relationship between women, be it mothers and daughters, sisters, friends, lovers. I am not done with those themes yet. Or rather, they’re not done with me! However, one thing I find myself exploring more since becoming a parent is ancestral history. I don’t believe it is a result of becoming a mother, but just a curiosity that I’ve always had and have now found the confidence and voice to explore.

How do you handle creative challenges or setbacks?

I keep trying. I keep coming back to the page. But if something is not working, no matter how many times I keep trying, then it might not be the story for me to write. It takes a lot to acknowledge that sometimes a story is not yours to write. Perhaps the timing isn’t right, or my level of maturity. I either gracefully move on, or give myself time.

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

Since I am a novelist, I never have to worry about that since everything I write is fiction. My imagination is my vessel. I pull from it. That, in itself, is a gift. 

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

I schedule massages every once in a while. I also workout in the mornings. It’s hard when I’m deep in a story to do anything at all, but I tell myself that I don’t want to be a “broken down” successful author. I want to look good and feel good, too.

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

I now find myself caring more about my children’s well-being. I now advocate for myself more in hopes that my sons can eat and live comfortably. I have always been ambitious. But now I am twice as ambitious. I also negotiate more. Before, I would go on tours and teach in far away places. Now, I am even more selective.

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

I am good friends with my inspiration, Edwidge Danticat, who is a phenomenal mother and writer. I constantly message her for advice, and we talk about balancing motherhood with our careers as writers. Tiphanie Yanique is another person who I look up to as a mother and a writer. I also listened to Toni Morrison speak about her sons and how she balanced her career with being a mother. These women inspired me to strike that balance as well, understanding how to give myself grace.

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

Be flexible. Your writing time can sometimes change, but it’s okay. Just go with the flow. Sometimes the best scenes are written under duress.

Who are your writer-mama heroes?

The women I mentioned above: Edwidge Danticat, who has been a phenomenal mentor and friend; Tiphanie Yanique, who I have always admired; Zadie Smith, and Toni Morrison. 

Nicole Dennis-Benn is the author of HERE COMES THE SUN (Norton/Liveright, July 2016), a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a 2017 Lambda Literary Award winner. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Soraya McDonald describes Nicole Dennis-Benn’s debut as reminiscent of the work of Toni Morrison. Her bestselling sophomore novel, PATSY (Norton/Liveright, June 2019), is a 2020 Lambda Literary Award winner, a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a Financial Times Critics Choice, a Stonewall Book Awards Honor Book, and a Today Show Read With Jenna Book Club selection.

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.