Two new books look at mothering through women’s writing

York women’s studies Professor Andrea O’Reilly, founder and director of York’s Association for Research on Mothering (ARM), is the co-editor of two recent books examining different aspects of motherhood.

From the Personal to the Political: Toward a New Theory of Maternal Narrative (Susquehanna University Press, December 2009) examines the role of autobiographical writing in giving women a voice. Textual Mothers/Maternal Texts: Motherhood in Contemporary Women’s Literatures (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2010) looks at diverse maternal themes in contemporary women’s writing in different literary genres and from a wide range of perspectives.

In Textual Mothers/Maternal Texts, the focus is “on mother subjects and mother writers, on women who produce autobiography, fiction and poetry about mothering, motherhood and being mothered,” write O’Reilly and co-editor Elizabeth Podnieks in the book’s introduction. The book’s collection of international contributors examine the mother without child, with child and in her multiple identities as grandmother, mother and daughter.

It explores how authors use textual spaces to accept, negotiate, resist or challenge traditional conceptions of mothering and maternal roles, and how these texts offer alternative practices and visions for mothers. It also looks at how textual representations can reflect, define or shape the realities of women and families, and how mothering and being a mother are political, personal and creative narratives that unfold on the pages and in real life.

The chapters range from looking at the aberrant, absent and alienated mothers in two of author Jane Urquhart’s novels and motherless daughters in Margaret Atwood’s writing to writing that encompasses abusive mothers and the colonial impact on mothering. 

From the Personal to the Political seeks to analyze the autobiographical perspective of mothering and motherhood, not solely in terms of inner, emotional and private narratives, but also showing how autobiographical writing gives voice to the historically determined experience of mothering and makes visible the importance of mothers as resilient, political agents.

Right: Andrea O’Reilly

The volume is divided into two sections. Both look at autobiographies as profoundly cultural and political texts which make social change possible. The first focuses on autobiographical theory where contributors use their own life stories to theorize upon a social maternal perspective, from single mothers and mothers of children with disabilities to mothers of older children, lesbian mothers, mothers in mourning and mothers of biracial children. In the second section, the focus shifts to autobiographical narratives and includes readings of memoirs, slave narratives, poetry and fiction.

O’Reilly is the author of Toni Morrison and Motherhood: A Politics of the Heart (SUNY Press, 2004) and Rocking the Cradle: Thoughts on Motherhood, Feminism and the Possibility of Empowered Mothering (Demeter Press, 2006). She is the editor of 14 collections and of the forthcoming, first-ever encyclopedia on motherhood.