'Mothers' Literature' Offers New Voices on Child-Rearing

Article excerpt

Katrina Kenison's son was three months old when she accepted a job as editor of an annual collection of fiction, "The Best American Short Stories." Working from home in Winchester, Mass., reading story after story, she quickly discovered a paradox: Although many women write short stories, few write about motherhood.

Yet the appeal of such fiction became apparent when she read "Before," a story by Mary Grimm about a young wife expecting her first baby. That story, says Ms. Kenison, "really resonated with my experiences - the transition of becoming a new mother. So I filed it away."

Over the years, her "motherhood files" grew. But it wasn't until Kenison's friend Kathleen Hirsch, an author with a master's degree in fiction writing, also became a mother that the collection expanded. They gathered stories, all previously published, on subjects from pregnancy and birth to childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. The result is "Mothers: Twenty Stories of Contemporary Motherhood" (North Point Press, $22), an anthology of short fiction devoted to motherhood. Writers include Laurie Colwin, Mary Gordon, Barbara Kingsolver, Perri Klass, Sue Miller, and Jane Shapiro.

Explaining the dearth of stories written from a mother's viewpoint, Kenison says, "Women historically have felt the need to separate their creativity from their maternity. They have felt they could tell all in their memoirs and fiction about sex and messy divorces and dysfunctional families, but there's been a great silence when it comes to expressing the way they feel about their own children." Kenison and Ms. Hirsch speculate that women have not regarded motherhood as a legitimate literary subject.

Although maternal emotions are timeless, Kenison continues, the issues mothers confront today are different and more complicated than they were 25 years ago. She and her husband have two sons, ages 6 and 3.

"It used to be that when a woman had children, the role was there waiting for her to step into," she says. "It may have been a circumscribed role, but it was a well-defined one. Today a woman choosing to have a baby has many more options, from the way she conceives a child to the way she raises it. Every woman has to create the role for herself and figure out on her own the kind of mother she will be - who's going to raise the children, who's going to pay the bills, how all these issues will be negotiated, with or without a partner."

For more than a decade after college, Hirsch could not imagine answering those questions herself. As a writer and self-described "seventies feminist," she saw her sense of wholeness as a woman in terms of intellectual development and achievement. …