The Writing Motherhood project was founded by Carolyn Jess-Cooke to explore women’s experiences of motherhood, particularly in terms of the impact of motherhood upon creativity, to explore the notion of motherhood as a space in which everyday sexism is rendered permissible, to recapture the experiences of motherhood which are beautiful and complicated and often unifying amongst women, including those experiences of infertility, and to confront and unpack the notion of the ‘pram in the hallway’, or the notion of motherhood obstructing the creation of great art. The project received full Arts Council funding in December 2013.
Involving more than 20 female writers, including Rebecca Goss, CL Taylor, Hollie McNish, Rowan Coleman, Sinead Morrissey, Debi Gliori, Helen Cadbury, Liz Fraser, Lily Dunn, Nuala Casey, Kathryn Simmonds, Kathryn Maris, and Kate Long, the project toured 13 literary festivals throughout 2014/15 and featured three writers at a time in discussion about the ways in which motherhood had impressed upon their work, and performing work especially commissioned for the project. Audiences also participated in writing workshops and were encouraged to submit to the Writing Motherhood blog, which was hosted by prominent international women’s writing magazine Mslexia. Reviews were overwhelming positive: the event was the Pick of the 2014 Birmingham Literature Festival and hailed by The List magazine as ‘hugely refreshing…strikingly honest and inspiring.’
One of the highlights of the tour has been the discussions about previously ‘closed’ subjects, with many audience members confessing ‘I thought it was just me who felt this way’.
In March 2017 the Writing Motherhood anthology was published, featuring poems, interviews and essays by 85 female writers. It was hailed as ‘ground-breaking’ by POETRY magazine (USA), selected by Wales Arts Review as it’s Book of the Year and by the London Evening Standard as one the best new books about motherhood. You can buy your copy here.
‘a marvellous book of poetry and prose and interviews with all kinds of mothers who feel tender, loving, angry, guilty, exhausted – they’re very reassuring.’ Dame Jacqueline Wilson
Groundbreaking, tremendous’ – Geraldine Clarkson
‘This is a truly inspiring collection, all the more so for its wit and its grit, its poetry and its honesty; here we have women producing ‘good art’ despite – and often because of – ‘the pram in the hall.’
– Shelley Day
‘Essential reading for anyone who is a mother, or who had a mother, and is interested in how motherhood and creativity intertwine. Packed with top quality writing that serves to remind us that far from being marginal, the challenges of motherhood are central to the human condition and the dual creative role of writer and mother is both conflicting and super-charging.’
– Helen Cadbury, author of the Sean Denton series of crime novels.
‘On reading Writing Motherhood, with all its scope and complexity – I felt relief. It was like holding onto a familiar length of rope; you know the weight, the grip, the exact roughness of it. It was like being tossed a life-line.’
– Helen Calcutt, Wales Arts Review