New writing from Irena Smith

January 11th, 2010

Readers who loved Irena Smith’s essay, Failure to Progress, in Mama, PhD won’t want to miss her new piece this month in Literary Mama. Here’s an excerpt:

So there we were, my husband David and I, on a road trip with our thirteen-year-old late last July, and I hadn’t a thing to wear. And when I say road trip, you have to understand that I’m being somewhat disingenuous here — kind of like Ishmael saying he had signed up to go on a little fishing trip with a slightly wild-eyed one-legged captain named Ahab. If you think it’s easy to pick the right outfit to see an experiential program in the Northern California wilderness, one you hope will take your high-functioning autistic thirteen year-old with a temper like an IED, trust me, it’s not. I didn’t want to look like a dolled-up tart, someone who would ditch their child in the wilderness and bolt for the nearest mall, but I didn’t want to look serious and severe, like a buttoned-up stiff and tweedy schoolmarm incapable of raising a child with special needs, either.

Click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest!

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An update from Miriam Peskowitz

December 2nd, 2009

Miriam Peskowitz was a writer recommended to us for the project by Amy Hudock. Elrena and I were both admirers of Miriam’s book, The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes A Good Mother? (Seal Press, 2005) and knew she would be able to contribute a foreword to the book that was both personal and political. She did not disappoint:

“At its worst, the professoriate is a callow institution, shortsighted and heartless. At its best, though, it has a venerable history as the gateway to the production of vibrant new ideas, of empathic and rigorous education that indirectly and at times very directly shapes our nation’s cultural and intellectual life. It is also an institution that comes with an incredible commitment to each professor’s lifelong contributions, which makes it all the more puzzling that efforts to suggest that universities take special care of their faculty during the years of a child’s new life have so slowly gained traction.

“For my part, I ended up leaving my academic job. After my first child was born, I took a year or two of unpaid leave. I agreed to some adjunct work at local universities, then, a few years in, I resigned my tenure. I continued to each, but in those years I began to find my path to a new career as an author. ”

Today, Miriam is a bestselling author, with Andrea Buchanan, of the terrific Daring Girls series of books; she writes: “Here’s what I’m up to in the land of Daring. Big news is that this summer, I experienced my own kind of daring when I boarded a plane headed to Detroit for a week of taping a special show with PBS, called Daring Kids, with Miriam Peskowitz. We taped nonstop, and it was the hardest work I’ve ever done, and the most exhilarating. That show is being used by PBS during their membership drives, and it’s premiering in December 2009 (anyone who wants to watch needs to check their local PBS station, or call in and ask for it!). The show is 14-odd activities, from kayaking to fishing to making a lava lamp, a volcano, a snowglobe or a pinata. We taped 12 extra segments for the DVD, which will be available in February 2010. For more info, just look at the website.

“I continue to imagine more Daring books, but no news to report.

“One highlight this Fall was visiting Duke University, and speaking at the What Does it Mean To Be an Educated Woman panel, honoring my mentor and friend, Jean O’Barr, on the occasion of her retirement. Very inspiring.”

Miriam’s own career is an inspiring model for us all, and we’ll continue to follow it closely!

Call for Papers: Being & Thinking as an Academic Mother

October 19th, 2009

Being and Thinking as an Academic Mother: Theory and Narrative
A One-Day Symposium

The Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) and the Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia University will co-host a one-day symposium at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute on Thursday, April 08, 2010 on “Being and Thinking as an Academic Mother: Theory and Practice.”

ARM and the Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia University are now seeking submissions for the symposium. The symposium will explore academic mothers’ experiences from both narrative and theory. While previous panel discussions and collections such as PhD Momma and Parenting and Professing examined being a mother academic from narrative or “lived experience” and others, Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering issue on Mothers in the Academe, explored mother academics’ experiences from a theoretical perspective, this is the first symposium to do so incorporating both narrative and theory. The symposium will explore how both research and narrative can inform contemporary understandings of academic motherhood, particularly in regard to strategies of resistance and empowerment.

Paper proposals should strengthen the dialogue among academic motherhood, intellectual ideas, and personal narrative. The symposium will explore the topic of Being and Thinking as an Academic Mother from a variety of perspectives and disciplines. We welcome submissions from scholars across disciplines.

The symposium will run from 9-5 and will include approximately 25 papers, with each panelist having 20 minutes to present their paper. To present at this symposium, you must be a member of ARM. The symposium will coincide with the NeMLA conference (April 07-11, 2010) at McGill University. The Institute is located at 2170 Bishop Street, Montreal, Quebec.

Topics can include (but are not limited to):
the maternal wall, “opting out”, mentoring and modeling, being a professor mother, work-life balance, negotiating or resisting the maternal wall, single mothers and academic work, graduate student mothering, being a mother on the tenure track, being a pregnant professor, maternity leave and academic mothering, poverty and academic mothering, juggling mothering and academic expectations, intersections between feminism and academic mothering, being an academic artist and mothering, race and academic mothering, academic job searches and mothering, teaching and mothering, sexuality and academic mothering, male organizing principles and academic mothering, the academic schedule and mothering, fertility and academic mothering, challenging assumptions about academic mothers, ethics and academic mothering, “having it all” as academic mothers, adoption and academic mothering, networking, strategies for surviving academic mothering, class and academic mothering, race and academic mother mentors, social reproduction and academic mothering, motherhood closet, being out as a mother, second/third shift in the home, academic culture and mothering, maternal pedagogy, myth of ideal worker/ideal mother, intensive mothering and academe, unboundedness of mother work and academic work, childcare, fathering, trailing spouses, academic couples, biological clock, university policies and mothering, timing and spacing of children, perceptions of mothers in academe, discrimination avoidance, discrimination against mothers in academe, motherhood penalty, “price of motherhood”, adjunct work, teaching and motherhood, benefits of motherhood on teaching and research.

Abstracts due by December 01, 2010.

Scholars interested in submitting proposals to this symposium are invited to submit proposals to D. Lynn O’Brien Hallstein at
or Andrea O’Reily

Mama, PhD at the University of Rochester

October 6th, 2009

Join Mama, PhD coeditor Elrena Evans in conversation with author Judith Warner and filmmaker Pamela Tanner Boll at the University of Rochester this Friday, October 9th.

The 2009 Stanton/Anthony Conversations: Mothers as Leaders: Contradictions & Challenges

Time: 1:15 PM – 2:30 PM
Location: Interfaith Chapel
Room: Sanctuary
Cost: FREE

Judith Warner is the author of several best-selling works, including Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety; Hillary Clinton: The Inside Story; You Have the Power: How to Take Back Our Country; and Restore Democracy in America (with Howard Dean). She writes the New York Times blog Domestic Disturbances and has written for Newsweek, The Washington Post, The New Republic, and Elle magazine.

Pamela Tanner Boll is an artist and director of the film
Who Does She Think She Is?, which follows five women artists as they navigate the economic, psychological, and spiritual challenges of making work outside the elite art world.

Elrena Evans is co-editor of the book Mama, Ph.D: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life and its corresponding blog.

Sponsored by the Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership

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Engineering Motherhood

October 4th, 2009

Jennifer Eyre White was another writer on our wish list. Elrena and I both loved her very funny Literary Mama column, Degrees of Freedom, and I had been lucky enough to meet her a few times and exchange work with her  in a small writing group. But we had to talk her into contributing, not because she was so busy (though she was) or because we couldn’t pay much for her contribution (though we couldn’t) but because she wasn’t sure her contribution would fit the book. Jennifer was a “non-traditional student,”a woman who tried five different high schools before finally dropping out at seventeen; “I spent most of my time,” she writes, “working for an ice-cream store, drinking beer, wearing trampy clothes, and making bad dating choices.”

But after a couple years of fairly mindless dead-end work, she decided she needed a change:

“It was then that I decided to become an electrical engineer, convinced it would be my ticket out of intellectual petrifaction. Choosing electrical engineering wasn’t a well-informed decision; in spite of having an engineer dad, I’d never actually figured out what engineers did. My dad didn’t talk about his job, and my own observation was that mostly what he did was tinker on his Corvettes. … I assumed that if I got an engineering degree, I too would learn the secrets of working on cars. I now know that this particular goal would have been better served by an auto-shop class.”

The goal might not have been expertly considered, but the journey certainly was, and Jennifer’s essay describes her careful route, via community college (where she met her husband), then a junior transfer to UCLA for her degree in electrical engineering, then a spreadsheet-organized plan to be a grad student mom:

“As I’d hoped, being a mother and a graduate student turned out to be a great combination. I had plenty of time with Riley, and enough time away. I did brain things, and I did mom things. If she was sick and I needed to be home with her, no one cared that I didn’t show up for class; I never had to call in sick or apologize for missing a big meeting. I didn’t have to hoard my vacation and sick days like a candy bar on a desert island. I didn’t have to worry whether my co-workers (or my boss) thought I was a flake. Later on, when I tried juggling an engineering career with one, then two, then three kids, I realized just how much harder it was to be a working mom than to be a student mom.”

Today, Jennifer writes, “Your email. . . made me want to tell you how writing my Mama PhD essay has affected me.  As you know I was a fighter plane and sports car groupie long before I became an engineer, and if I’d had a clue what I was doing I should have chosen to become a mechanical engineer rather than an electrical engineer (EE’s don’t take classes in stuff like aerodynamics since we’re too busy studying circuits and semiconductor physics and that sort of thing).

“Writing my essay for Mama PhD reminded me of my original love of overpowered machinery and it made me sad that I never learned about the stuff that interested me — so I recently registered for an online class in airfoil design. I’m happy to report that, unlike when I was in grad school in the mid 90’s, lots of excellent engineering schools have online grad-level courses now. This is great for people who work and also, of course, for moms!

“The only question is whether I can remember the prerequisite material fast enough to keep up. It’s slightly terrifying. Oh, and writing the essay also made me really want to go back to driving a ferocious sports car rather than a minivan.  Still working on that one.

Some time later, Jennifer sent me another update, demonstrating how flexible working student moms need to be: “I switched classes from Airfoil Theory to Dynamics because of a work conflict (well, not only did I switch classes, I switched colleges, since I needed a later start date).  I’m really excited. But I know I will be severely overwhelmed.”

Jennifer is one of several contributors to the book who do not hold PhDs — some of them are still working on the degree; some are deciding whether to finish it; some, like Jennifer, never wanted that particular degree, or needed it to pursue a career in their chosen field. But all their stories shed light on the challenges of combining motherhood and academic work, and we’re happy Jennifer’s story is in the book. And now we’ll look forward to seeing her airplane designs.

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Who Does She Think She Is? DVD discount!

October 2nd, 2009

whodoesWho Does She Think She Is?, the terrific documentary about women trying to combine motherhood and artistic work, is coming out on DVD! I wrote about the film last year in my Mama at the Movies column. Here’s an excerpt:

I hadn’t really thought about the constraints of space and materials that visual artists work with until I watched Pamela Tanner Boll’s moving new documentary, Who Does She Think She Is? (2008), which introduces us to several mother-artists and asks why, when making art and raising children are both crucial for our culture, it is so hard to do both. The film wants us to know about these mothers making art, and it puts their stories in the larger context of all women artists. Like all women, women artists find their work less well-known and less well-compensated than the work of their male contemporaries. Like all mothers, mother artists endure isolation from their peers, sleep deprivation, and myriad claims on their time which make it difficult to continue their careers. But they do.

The filmmakers are celebrating the DVD release by organizing house parties around the country on November 8th. Want to join them? You can buy the DVD at a 10% discount with a special promotional code for Literary Mama and Mama, PhD readers; just go the DVD online store and enter the promo code LitMama.

There’s more information about the house party idea here and here. Check it out, and then gather  your friends for a screening!

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Enter Today to Win Mama, PhD!

September 25th, 2009


My friend and fellow mama-writer, one of the most savvy internet book marketing women I know, Christina Katz, is once again running her Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway where she gives away one book or magazine subscription every day in September. On September 25th, I’m delighted that Mama, PhD will be included in a trio of anthologies edited by Literary Mama editors Shari MacDonald Strong and Amy Hudock.

Our books — Mama, PhD: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life; The Maternal Is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change; and Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined–will be up for giveaway on September 25th. To see a complete list of what you can win, visit Christina’s Writer Mama blog. You can enter every day if you want, so bookmark her site and visit again and again. Good luck!

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Joanne Rendell Interview, part two!

September 18th, 2009

Today we’re running the second part of our interview with Crossing Washington Square author, Joanne Rendell; read the first part here.

Mama, PhD: If you weren’t a writer, what else would you do?

JR: I can’t get enough of the book world so I’d probably choose to be an editor or agent. I’m sure its hard and sometimes frustrating work, but it would be so fun to work with authors on their books and seeing the books going out into the world and into stores.

Mama, PhD: What’s your routine when you sit down to write each day?

JR: I write in the morning before my son gets up. I usually start by doing what I call the “author laundry” work, in other words answering emails, updating my blog, twittering etc. Sometimes I get so sucked in by all these things, it’s hard to shut them off and get down to writing. But I always try and force myself to write a few hundred words a day. Even if they turn out to be utter rubbish and I scrap them the next day, at least I have words and ideas on the page.

Mama, PhD: Do you have a writing group, or a particular person with whom you share your work in progress? Do you have a writing mentor?

JR: I’m not in an official writing group, but I do share my writing with a couple of author friends who give me feedback (and I give feedback on their work). I couldn’t write without them! Their feedback has been invaluable and simply having cheerleaders who say “keep going, this is great” has been wonderful. I don’t have a real-life mentor, although, through their books, wonderful writing teachers such as Carolyn See, John Gardner, and Francine Prose have proved important mentors.

Mama, PhD: What effect has publishing two successful novels had on your life or your writing routine?

JR: It’s definitely had a very motivating effect – it makes me want to keep on writing. However, there are many promotional demands put on writers these days. Book sales are dwindling, publisher’s marketing budgets are being slashed, and thus authors are expected to help get the word out about our books. We have to write blogs, connect with readers through Facebook and Twitter, and go out and do readings and talks. All of this is generally a lot of fun, but it does take away from precious writing time.

Mama, PhD: What kind of impact has motherhood had on your work, your process, or your priorities?

JR: As a grad student, it took me three and a half years to write an 80K word dissertation. Since my son was born six years ago, I have written three novels (all over 100K words). It would seem that with the demands of motherhood you’d become less productive. The opposite was clearly true for me! Once I took up the fiction writing path, and found myself loving it, I just became very organized and driven. I’ve always written when my son sleeps and the ticking clock has been wonderful for my productivity.

Mama, PhD: You wrote last year about keeping your child home, “unschooling,” instead of sending him to kindergarten; is he still spending his days out of school, and what impact has that had on your writing?

JR: So far, homeschooling Benny hasn’t impacted too much on my writing schedule. I was a stay-at-home mum before Benny was official school age (he didn’t go to pre-K or nursery) and managed to carve out the time to write three books. I’m lucky that I am still managing to find that time. Of course, it involves a lot of juggling and scheduling, but we manage it. “Homeschool” is somewhat a misnomer, of course, as we spend a relatively small amount of time schooling at “home.” We live in New York so are lucky enough to have an amazing array of fun and educational places on our doorstep. Benny and I, together with his homeschooled friends, are always out on trips to the Met, the Natural History Museum, aquariums, zoos, galleries, libraries, and parks. When we’re not out and about, Benny and I love to read – either together or separately. I’m so thankful he loves books like I do and I feel I’m learning so much as a writer through Benny’s books and his homeschool experiences in general. Inspired by another homeschool family, we recently started a loose history curriculum in which we’ve studied dinosaurs, early man, Ancient Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt followed by Ancient Greece and Rome. We’ve combined relevant story and picture books, play with history-themed toys, and trips to museums. Benny has learnt a lot, but it’s amazing how much I’ve learned too about Greek myths, ancient texts and civilizations. I feel my mind – and my writing – expanding because of these studies!

Mama, PhD: Will you share what you are working on now?

JR: I’m working on final edits for my third novel which was bought by Penguin last fall. The novel tells the story of a woman (another female professor, in fact!) who thinks she might be related to the nineteenth century writer, Mary Shelley. On her journey to seek the truth and to discover if there really is a link between her own family and the creator of Frankenstein, Clara unearths surprising facts about people much closer to home – including some shocking secrets about the ambitious scientist she is engaged to. The book is told in alternating points of view between Clara and the young Mary Shelley who is preparing to write Frankenstein.

Mama, PhD: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us, and best of luck on your next book!

Crossing Washington Square: Review & Interview!

September 15th, 2009

Back in the spring, Joanne Rendell contacted us about the possibility of reviewing her new book, Crossing Washington Square. As it turns out, Caroline’s mom had just recommended Joanne’s first book, The Professors’ Wives’ Club to us, and so we were primed to read her popular novels about the personal lives of academics.

After reading her books, we decided we wanted to know more about Rendell’s background and how a writer who was born and educated in the UK came to know so much about higher education in the United States. So following our review of Crossing Washington Square here, we’ll post (in two parts) an interview with her about writing, mothering, and the difference between US and UK dorm life.

Ah, study abroad: The intellectual opportunities! The cultural experiences! The chance to live with and learn from a global student population!

Or so study abroad is billed. But of course truthfully, study abroad is often an opportunity to flee bad relationships and drink a lot of very good beer. Even earnest, studious students like the two of us found ourselves frequently distracted from libraries and lectures. We turned out okay—finished our time abroad without many heartaches or hangovers—and then continued on to finish our BAs, an MFA and a PhD. Now we lead quiet lives with husbands and kids; when we look at pictures from our study abroad days, we barely recognize ourselves.

And so we leapt at the chance to read Crossing Washington Square, Joanne Rendell’s entertaining new novel about two female English literature professors at the fictitious Manhattan University. A tense relationship is only the beginning of a story that culminates with Literary London, a two-week student trip abroad.

Personal and academic sparring forms the heart of the conflict between the novel’s two protagonists. Rachel, a scholar of popular literature, devotes her study to books like Bridget Jones’ Diary, while Diana, a Sylvia Plath scholar, disdains her younger colleague’s work and the implications it holds for the traditional canon. Both women are single, and inevitably find themselves drawn to the same man in their department.

For readers like us, who unashamedly read both Fielding and Plath yet understand how charged the stakes can be in academic turf disputes, the story’s a page-turner. The conflicts–over both literature and love– come to a head when the two women find themselves unexpectedly co-chaperoning the Literary London trip.

Of course as studying abroad students, we never really thought about the faculty’s experience. We never thought about their personal lives at all. But now we have friends and family members who are university faculty; we witness their struggles to combine work and family, sympathize with their difficult schedules, read their draft manuscripts and yes, visit when they lead student study abroad trips. Those trips don’t look so easy as they did when we were being led gently by the hand from this historical point of interest to that literary landmark. Reading the book made us want to find out more about author Joanne Rendell’s own background, and so we wrote to ask about her own educational experience, her writing life, and her take on motherhood and academia. Read on!

Mama, PhD: What was your inspiration for CWS?

Joanne Rendell: As someone who has lived the academic life (I have a PhD in literature and now I’m married to a professor at NYU), I’ve always loved campus novels such as David Lodge’s Trading Places, Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, Richard Russo’s The Straight Man, Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, Francine Prose’s Blue Angel, and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. But what I noticed about such campus fiction was the lack of female professors in leading roles. Even Francine Prose and Zadie Smith focus on male professors in their writing. Furthermore, most of these male professors are disillusioned drunks who quite often sleep with their students, or at least consider sleeping with their students or are accused of it. I wanted to write a novel with women professors at the forefront and I wanted these women to be strong, smart, and interesting – instead of drunk, despondent, and preoccupied with questionable sexual liaisons!

Mama, PhD: How closely do any of the events in CWS connect to events in your own life?

JR: Like one of my characters, Professor Diana Monroe, I once taught Sylvia Plath to undergraduates. Like Professor Rachel Grey, my other lead character, I sometimes struggled to ignite a discussion in a room full of tired students! Crossing Washington Square is also set at Manhattan U. which closely resembles NYU where my husband teaches and where we live in faculty housing. So there’s a lot of me and my life in the book, but the story of the two very different women and their struggles against each other is definitely fictional.

Mama, PhD: How did you develop the characters of Diana and Rachel?

JR: I knew I wanted to write a book about women professors and at some point while I was working on this idea, I reread Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. I’ve always loved Austen’s portrayal of the two very different Dashwood sisters: Elinor led by her sense and Marianne led by her irrepressible sensibilities. I enjoyed putting these two types of women in a modern context and then adding opposing views of literature to stir up more sparks between them. Professor Rachel Grey is emotional and tempestuous and uses chick lit in her classes. Meanwhile, Professor Diana Monroe is cool, aloof, and controlled. She is a scholar of Sylvia Plath and thinks that “beach” fiction is an easy ride for students. They do not get along!

Mama, PhD: In your experience, are the university “old guard” as resistant to change in the canon as you portray them in the book? Why do you think this is?

JR: There are still many people in academe who are resistant to change, although my depiction of the “old guard” in Crossing Washington Square is probably a little exaggerated. But not too much. Even now it is hard for scholars interested in more modern and popular culture to be taken seriously and to have their courses and their publications accepted and valued by their institutions. I recently wrote a piece for The Huffington Post about scholars interested in romance fiction (think Harlequin and Nora Roberts). The field is growing considerably, but it is still very small considering the huge popularity of romance novels. I suppose the “old guard” want to protect their work and their disciplines and they probably do genuinely believe – as Professor Monroe does in my book – that classical or serious literature will get pushed aside by students and scholars wanting to study supposedly “hot” and “trendy” cultural artifacts.

Mama, PhD: You grew up and earned your degree in the UK; you’re married now to an American and live in residence at NYU. What do you see as the differences between the British and American college experience?

JR: The British system, I think, encourages students to be more independent in their studies. In the U.S., there seems a more top-down approach: a lot more required credits and supervision. The U.S. student experience also seems a lot more sober! I know, for any of you in the U.S. who’ve experienced or witnessed frat houses and beer pong, you might think that laughable. But in Britain the drinking age is 18 and sometimes it seems like the whole university experience is built around alcohol – some dorms even have their own bars!

Mama, PhD: The only mother we see in the book is the wife of an assistant professor–as a mother yourself, do you feel that motherhood and the academy are somehow incompatible?

JR: I don’t think they are incompatible, but I do think it is a big challenge to do both and I hugely admire the women who pull it off (my best friend is one of them). Motherhood is a 24/7 job so to add writing lectures, grading papers, going to faculty meetings, writing journal articles etc. on top is just a very hard thing to do. It clearly involves a lot of juggling, scheduling, toughness, and support.

Mama, PhD: How has living in faculty housing shaped your experiences as a mother/writer? Your perceptions of the academy?

JR: My husband and I are actually faculty-in-residence which means we live in an apartment in one of NYU’s dorms and run all kinds of programs and events for the students. Sometimes when I tell people we live in the dorm they’re horrified – probably imagining some sort of Animal House scenario! However, we’ve had nothing but great experiences. The students in the dorm really appreciate our presence and our programs. Also, it’s been wonderful for us, providing an immediate community, lots of “friends” for Benny our six year old son, and it has also has shown us a lot about students today. I’ve been pleasantly surprised how polite, engaged, and enthusiastic all the students seem to be.

Mama, PhD: You have a PhD in literature and no longer teach; when did you decide to leave the classroom behind, and what was the transition from academia to creative writing like for you?

JR: I left academia after I finished my PhD and when I moved to the States to be with my husband and to have my son. When I was pregnant, I assumed I would start applying for academic jobs after the baby was born. But then my pregnancy rolled on, my son arrived, and the longer I was out of academe the more content I felt. No meetings, no teaching prep, no never-ending reading lists, no hours fretting over a lost citation. I watched as my husband went through all this and it didn’t make me yearn for the academic life. Also, I just couldn’t imagine being able to juggle my newborn with all the demands of a tenure-track job.

When my son was just a few months old, I saw an ad for a creative writing class and it suddenly occurred to me that there was something I missed: writing and the writing life I had back in grad school. But creative writing? I wasn’t sure if that was really me. After all, I had years of literature student baggage weighing me down. How would I ever write fiction without thinking about the grad students who might one day pull my writing apart? How would I choose what to write? Would I be postmodern, feminist, queer, or deconstructive?

In the end though, I got over my fears and signed up for my very first creative writing class. There was no looking back after that.


Tune in later this week for the rest of our interview with Joanne Rendell, in which she talks with us about her writing routine, “unschooling” her child, and what’s next for her.

Free to Be. . . Mom and Me: Finding My Complicated Truth as an Academic Daughter

September 14th, 2009

Megan Pincus Kajitani was writing a series of articles for the Chronicle of Higher Education when Miriam Peskowitz (one of our wish-list writers) introduced us. We read her work and knew we wanted her wise, compassionate voice in the collection.

We were surprised by her story, because we didn’t realize that Megan was an academic daughter herself! As she writes in her essay:

“A PhD in accounting, my mother has gone from popular professor at one major business school to highly respected department chair in another, was thoroughly present for me and my brother growing up, and has a happy, thirty-seven-year marriage to my father, who is also an academic. She defies the studies I have cited in my Chronicle of Higher Education columns on the challenges of career/family balance in academia—studies that show women on the tenure track are less likely to have as many children as they want, and to make their marriages work, than tenured men or nontenured women. Several of my academic mentors fit the studies’ disheartening description. But my mom pretty much has it all.”

“My mother never pressured me to have an academic career like hers, and she never pressured me to get married or have babies. In fact, her pressure actually came in the form of subtly urging me not to marry young (even though she did and got “lucky,” as she calls it). The only outright requests she ever made of me were that I not become a cheerleader and I not pursue a career in acting, my adolescent fantasy. The cheerleader request was for obvious reasons from a 1970s feminist mother (and is a request I plan to pass down to my own daughter), and the acting because, living south of Hollywood, we knew many talented but starving actors, and CPA Mom didn’t like the odds. Other than that, she just told me to do what made me happy.”

Megan did enter a PhD program, as she describes in her essay, and then decidesdto leave — a decision that opened a pathway to a new career as an academic adviser and then a freelance writer and editor.

After publishing her essay in Mama, PhD, Megan contributed to the Mama, PhD blog on Inside Higher Ed, writing a weekly advice column, The Career Coach Is In. Today, she writes, “I’ve continued to evolve as a freelancer since Mama, PhD came out. After leaping at the great opportunity to be a personal story editor for Miriam Peskowitz on her chapters of The Daring Book for Girls, I remembered just how much I love editing books (one of my pre-academia jobs). So I jumped a the next opportunity, to edit the 4th edition of the teacher-training bestseller, The First Days of School, by Harry and Rosemary Wong, and then got to work with Miriam again on The Double-Daring Book for Girls. I am finding book editing to fit very well with mothering for me, and I now have three more book editing projects in the works. My writing these days comes when the mood strikes, as did the essay about my first pregnancy that Mothering Magazine published last fall.

“On the personal side, I’ve greatly enjoyed the ability to be present at home for my daughter Senna, who was just six months old when I wrote my Mama, PhD essay. She is now three-and-a-half and a thriving, precocious and imaginative child. She also happens to have multiple, life-threatening food allergies, which has had a big impact on our life, and helps me see all the more clearly why being home with her is right for me. I helped launch a small, allergy-safe co-op preschool group starting this fall, and when she hits kindergarten age I will begin homeschooling her, with the great back-up of my husband Alex, who was named 2009 California Teacher of the Year last winter. Senna now also has a younger brother, Kallan Joseph, who was born in January at home in a beautifully smooth water birth. I had similar third-trimester complications with Kallan’s pregnancy, so once again I was thankful to be working on my own time at home, which I found a lot less stressful than trying to commute and unsuccessfully to negotiate a job-share as I was during my first pregnancy.

“In short, I feel as if everything for me is happening as it should, and I’m thankful for the flexibility I have to make choices about my family and work life. I don’t see myself returning to academia any time in the foreseeable future, although I continue to correspond with many academic friends and, even though I am not officially career counseling anymore, I always answer the emails I still get from PhD students struggling with their career decisions. I’ve also helped a lot of friends with their resumes!”

We’re not surprised–and we’re very happy–to hear Megan sounding so peaceful and content with how she has managed life since leaving academia. You can find out more about Megan and her work at her website,

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