In Theory/In Practice: On Choosing Children and the Academy

September 9th, 2009

Mama, PhD owes its existence in many ways to Literary Mama, the website through which coeditors Caroline and Elrena first met, and Lisa Harper’s contribution, In Theory/In Practice: On Choosing Children and the Academy, also originated in a Literary Mama conversation. Lisa had published an essay in Literary Reflections, the section of Literary Mama that Caroline was editing at the time, and our correspondence about that piece, Flying Home, led us to solicit a contribution for Mama, PhD.

Lisa’s essay appears in the fourth section of the book, Momifesto, in which writers consider changes the academy needs to make to become more family-friendly. Lisa describes her experience facing the academic job market after two years in a visiting professorship and realizing that, in order to have the life she wants–with a family and time for creative nonfiction writing–she needs to leave the “community I had always assumed would be my professional home.” She winds up in an adjunct teaching position, the kind of position that is typically considered the worst kind of temporary work for an academic. As Lisa writes:

“Conventional wisdom has it—and my earlier experience had certainly confirmed—that adjunct faculty serve as second-class citizens on most university campuses. Lower pay, the absence of benefits, the lack of job security, poor course assignments, and overwork are only the most pragmatic problems. Compounding these difficulties, in many institutions, part-timers are largely excluded from the life of the department, from administrative responsibilities (and, therefore, from administrative power), from the intellectual and collegial respect afforded their full-time colleagues, and from the possibilities for career advancement in their own and other institutions.

“But in my new program, I worked with a group of writers, almost all of whom served as adjunct faculty, who seemed genuinely to like one another, and who were happy to be teaching together. Although the practical, financial challenges of adjunct work remained, we also were largely freed from the administrative burdens that took time from the primary pleasures of writing and teaching. As part-timers, we were all equals. As part-timers, it was a given that we had families, occupations—in short, full lives—outside the academy. This fact was respected by all, including the students who had their own demanding lives outside of our program. Contrary to prevailing academic wisdom, here was a program that thrived because of—not in spite of—part-time labor. My colleagues and I talked about pedagogy, supported each others’ book releases, and traded manuscripts. We attended programwide readings and read each semester from our own works in progress. There was a clear, communal sense of purpose and a devotion to the art of teaching that equaled our primary calling to write. It was a rare find and a great freedom to be part of such a community.”

Today, Lisa “is still Adjunct Professor of Writing in the MFA Program at the University of San Francisco. She continues to juggle writing, teaching, and parenting with varied degrees of success. On some days, she eagerly anticipates September 2010 when her youngest will enter full day kindergarten. On other days, this fact makes her weep.”

You can find out more about Lisa’s projects–one of which is an anthology, coedited with Caroline, about what we eat and why it matters–over at her website.

The Long and Winding Road

September 7th, 2009

Jean Kazez‘s essay opens the third section of the book, Recovering Academic, and tells the story of her gradual departure from tenure-track teaching after her twins were born. “This was no easy decision,” she writes, “After telling my department head I was interested in adjunct teaching, I felt like a boat cut from its moorings, drifting into the open sea.” But it was necessary for her family, and she found that as an adjunct she could develop and teach new courses that became a stepping stone to a new phase in her career, writing “enjoyable, accessible philosophy” and publishing a book, The Weight of Things.

But despite her real success, Jean’s essay expresses some healthy ambivalence:
“In an ideal world I’d have a full-time job and my writing would earn me a predictable salary and benefits as well as pie-in-the-sky royalties. I wouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of depending so heavily on my husband’s income; it wasn’t a problem when I was taking care of our children full time, but now, as the mother of two ten-year-olds who are in school all day, it does feel like an indignity. Have I landed in this spot because the academic workplace is ill adapted to mothers? I don’t think that’s exactly true: I think the academic workplace is ill adapted to everyone.”

Today, Jean reports, “Since I wrote “The Long and Winding Road,” I’ve stopped being the mother of two semi-cuddly 9 year olds and started being the mother of two interesting
12 year olds. Same kids–but what a difference three years makes! I’ve also written a new book, Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals, coming out in February 2010. I’m still teaching part-time at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and still mulling over the whole package–parenting, writing, part-time teaching. Some of that mulling may make it into my next writing project, which is about the philosophical questions we inevitably bump into as parents.”

We’re looking forward to reading more of Jean’s work; in the meantime, you can find out more about Jean and her projects at her blog, In Living Color.

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Recovering Academic

September 4th, 2009

When Elrena and I first began talking about Mama, PhD, we quickly developed a wish list of contributors, and Jennifer Margulis’ name was on both our lists. We knew she had a PhD; we knew she had a thriving freelance writing and editing career. We didn’t know how she got from one to the other. Her essay, which describes how she falls off the wagon of a life in academia, gives our third section its title: Recovering Academic.

She writes in her essay of weighing her job options:

I thought of a brilliant colleague who moved to Nevada for a tenure track position, and was miserable. And another who worked at a big research university in the middle of Ohio who was also struggling to find her way. I thought of a professor at Emory who never wanted to be in Atlanta, who hadn’t bought a house or an apartment because she felt like her time there was just temporary. Ten years later, tenured, she was still in Atlanta. Instead of living her life, she was waiting to leave. She hadn’t married or had children. My husband, James, and I talked about our options for hours: we decided that we weren’t willing to move somewhere we didn’t want to live just for a job. We made the decision that we would make over and over again: our family, our children, and our quality of life all came ahead of academic success. It was a decision that would soon catapult me out of academia and into a more flexible, child-friendly, and risky career.

Today, Jennifer and her family are thriving. She reports:
“Since spending a year teaching on a Fulbright fellowship–as described in Mama, Ph.D.–I have been completely on the wagon and making a living by writing and editing full-time. I’ve co-authored a book with my husband, The Baby Bonding Book for Dads (visit the book’s blog), which we were working on during our time in West Africa, and I have published articles in a wide variety of major magazines and newspapers since my return. Recent articles include a profile of a Salt Lake City entrepreneur who stared a no-menu no-prices restaurant for More magazine, a 6,000-word piece on the debate about vaccines for Mothering magazine, and a cover story for the November issue of Smithsonian magazine about Niger’s last herd of West African giraffes. I was also profiled in that issue by Smithsonian’s editor-in-chief, Carey Winfrey, and the article, “Looking Up,” was selected for inclusion in BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE WRITING 2009. I’ve also been doing a lot of traveling and travel writing, for both the Oregonian and for Disney’s, and I have recently been on assignment at Crater Lake and in Paris, London, the Big Island, and Kauai. Get links to recent articles, media appearances, and events at my website. Finally, I am expecting my fourth child this November.”

Jennifer’s essay offers an excellent example of a viable out of academia, and she continues to advise writers on developing a freelance career, so visit her website for more information.

One Mamá’s Dispensable Myths and Indispensable Machines

August 31st, 2009

In her essay, Angelica Duran writes about the machines that get her, a single mother of two, through her graduate program: the computer on which she wrote; the bicycle which carried her, her books, and sometimes her kids from home to school and back again; the movable library shelves, where her young son quickly learned his letters and numbers, so eager was he to key in the combination that would set the shelves in motion. We’ll never forget the image of her daughter writing encouraging notes – “’Good job, mom!’ or ‘Just 8 more days until you turn in your dissertation’ – and paper-airplaning those ‘love notes’ down the staircase to [her mom].”

Angelica now writes, “Since the book came out, young Jacqueline and Paul have made major steps. Jacqueline is now a freshman at Purdue, majoring in English Education, minoring in Spanish, playing tuba in the (fantastic) Purdue All-American Marching Band, and living in the dorms. Paul is a high school freshman, whose growth spurt leaves me the shortest member of our nuclear family. He takes after his stepfather and me in loving international travel: just last year he traveled with some junior high folk to Italy over spring break for a week, and with his best friend’s family to South Korea for about a month. An Associate Professor, I accepted the nomination to become the Director of Religious Studies. In November, I will be talking about being a Mama, Ph.D. during recent years at the annual National Women’s Studies Conference in Georgia. Husband Sean is busily remodeling our new home — we (environmentally-responsibly) downsized upon Jacqueline’s graduation. It’s actually an older home on our same block. We love our neighbors. We are loving life.”

It’s good to hear things are going so well for this Mamá, PhD!

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Enter to win a copy of Mama, PhD!

August 26th, 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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Coming to Terms at Full Term

August 24th, 2009

In September, 2006, Natalie Kertes Weaver submitted her essay, Coming to Terms at Full Term, to be considered for inclusion in Mama, PhD. The essay begins:

On my way back to my office, I ran into a colleague, accompanied by her son, a handsome, six-foot tall, high school senior. She smiled at me and said, “Mine was the size of yours just a blink ago.” “A blink?” I inquired. “One blink,” she nodded. I grinned in return, but the encounter left me unsettled. I wondered how I will feel a few blinks from now, when I am driving my now seventeen-month old boy to his own college visits in preparation for his exodus into adulthood. Will I regret the choice I made to work when he was young? Will I be jealous of the time he spent with others while I was writing or grading or lecturing? Will he understand my reasons? Will I? These are the questions I battle nearly every day, as I remind my husband that he and the baby are my life, and ask him to please take extra care in the car. These are the questions I write about in the journal I keep for my son alongside the record of his first steps, words, and other milestones. These are the questions I struggle with at 4:00 am, when I wake from sleep, restless with thoughts of my own human frailty and mortality.

The essay is one of the shortest in the book, but gets to the heart of the struggles of working mothers in a gentle tone that builds to a conclusion of quiet determination.

We checked in recently with Natalie and learned that she’s been very busy since the book’s publication!

“Most important among the changes in my life is the arrival of our second son, Nathan Augustine, who is now six months old. I also earned tenure and was promoted to associate professor in March 2009. I have, furthermore, finished two books. The first is Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Saint Mary’s Press), which will be available in Sept. 09. The second is an illustrated children’s book, Baby’s First Latin (BookSurge), which will also be available in Sept. 2009. As always, I am thankful for the fullness of my busy life, and I count it all as blessings.”

Congratulations to Natalie, and here’s hoping she can take a well-deserved breather soon.

Happy Birthday, Mama, PhD!

August 24th, 2009

To celebrate our first year in print and our third printing, we’ll be visiting with our contributors and publishing brief reports from them about life since the book came out. Check back regularly for updates!

NeMLA: Calls for Papers:

July 31st, 2009

The Northeast Modern Language Association
41st Anniversary Convention, Montreal, Quebec – Hilton Bonaventure, April 7-11, 2010

The 41st Annual Convention will feature approximately 350 sessions, as well as dynamic speakers and cultural events. Interested participants may submit abstracts to more than one NeMLA session; however, panelists can only present one paper (panel or seminar). Convention participants may present a paper at a panel and also present at a creative session or participate in a roundtable.

Abstract Deadline: September 30, 2009

Please include with your abstract:

Name and Affiliation
Email address
Postal address
Telephone number
A/V requirements (if any; $10 handling fee)

Being and Thinking as an Academic Mother: Theory and Narrative

While previous books and panels have examined being a mother academic from narrative or “lived experience” and others explored mother academics’ experiences from a theoretical perspective, this panel will incorporate both narrative and theory. The panel will explore how both research and narrative can inform contemporary understandings of academic motherhood and will strengthen the dialogue among academic motherhood, intellectual ideas, and narrative. Please submit 200-300 word abstracts to D. Lynn O’Brien Hallstein at

Literary Motherhood in the New World

This panel seeks submissions of 200-400 words which focus on the relationship between a mother and her children and/or the social role of the mother in the New World in both racialized and non-racialized contexts. Submissions from literary works which draw from the New World-North and South American mainland as well as the Caribbean-are welcomed as are works which draw from both the colonial and postcolonial periods. Please send submissions to Kate Caccavaio at

The Adoption Memoir

As the forming of families through trans-national adoption has radically increased over the past decade, a new genre of memoir writing has emerged. This panel will examine the Adoption Memoir as a cultural expression of the need to interrogate this new form of family making, and its impact on the family members and society. Papers can be on single or selections of memoirs, from all viewpoints (adoptive parent, adoptee and birthparents). Literary, socio-political, psychoanalytic, feminist and global-economic approaches welcome. Lindsay Davies at

Big degree, big family?

July 14th, 2009

Robin Wilson’s recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education asks, Is Having More Than 2 Children an Unspoken Taboo? She interviews Mama, PhD contributors Libby Gruner, Nicole Cooley, Leslie Leyland Fields (mother of six), and others for their opinions and advice about raising a big family along with a career in academe:

“‘Every day I wait for something to fall on my head,’ says Jill Nelson Granger, a professor of chemistry and associate dean of academic affairs at Sweet Briar College, who has four children. ‘I study my calendar the night before like every day is a test.'”

Is it harder to raise a large family within the context of a career in higher education than anywhere else in the US? What do you think?

Call for Papers: PERINATAL A Symposium on Birth Practices and Reproductive Rights

June 23rd, 2009

Submission Deadline: July 13, 2009
A Symposium on Birth Practices and Reproductive Rights
Wednesday 7th October 2009 (tentative) at
George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia
Forty years ago, the feminist movement advocated for reproductive rights.  Over the years,
childbirth was dropped from the agenda.  Why? What has this meant for women?  How are
women organizing for change?
We welcome submissions from scholars, students, activists, artists, mothers and others who work
or research in this area. Comparative and interdisciplinary work is encouraged. Feminist
inquiries are explicitly sought, although all submissions will be considered. We encourage a
variety of types of submissions including academic papers from all disciplines, workshops,
creative submissions, performances, storytelling, visual arts, and other alternative formats.
This symposium is interdisciplinary.  Possible topics include:
• Cultural myths and expectations around birth (written, verbal, or visual culture)
• Rethinking maternal-fetal conflict
• The psychological impact of contemporary birth practices
• Developments in midwifery, homebirth, and unassisted birth
• The symbolic significance of birth practices as socialization
• The evolution of contemporary birth practices and taboos
• Maternal resistance to birth practices
• The feminist movement and birth
If you are interested in being a presenter, please send a 250-500 word abstract and a 50 word bio
by July 13, 2009 to: Jessica Clements (  Late abstracts will be considered
and accepted if possible.
Please send the abstract as an attachment, not in the body of an email, in either PDF or Word
DOC format.  Include Title, Abstract (250-500 words), Name, Institutional Affiliation, Address,
Phone, Email Address, Brief Bio (50 words).

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