A Writer with Writers: Mothering as an Act of Revolutionary Love

February 24, 2016
by Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead, Ph.D

When I realized that I was going to be a mother, I decided that I was going to be a #blackmommyactivist and practice the art of revolutionary mothering. I wrote out the words to Khalil Gibran’s poem “On Children” and hung them on my wall as a daily reminder of what it meant to practice revolutionary mothering:

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and the daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

I had no idea of what this looked like in practice, I just knew that in order to raise happy, healthy, and whole children, I needed to consciously speak love into their lives, to speak hope into their spirits, and to birth and nurture a sense of self and of belonging into their soul. Revolutionary mothering is not for the faint of heart. With the help of some guideposts set up by sister writers and scholars, the path is one that each revolutionary mother must carve and scratch out daily. Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs takes on this challenge and studies and writes about what this has looked like in the lives of revolutionary mothers.

This month, I explore revolutionary mothering and more in my interview with Dr.  Gumbs about her forthcoming anthology, Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines.

KW: Why did you decide to write this book?

AG: The short answer is that we [Gumbs and co-editors Mai’a Williams and China Martens] believe that mothering is revolutionary. The people who aren’t supposed to have a chance to mother—like black/queer/poor people, people like us and the people who mothered us, are recreating the world every day in intimate, intergenerational, creative and collective ways—should be given a space to tell their stories. If we are ever going to have the society that we need (like one where humans get to keep living on this planet, for example) everyone needs to learn from the world-changing daily work that we call mothering.


KW: Which writers inspire you?

AG: There are so many people who have written amazing work about mothering. YOU [Karsonya Whitehead] for example, both on your Facebook page and in your book, Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America. asha bandele is also a major inspiration (especially her novel, daughter, and her memoir, something like beautiful, all of her poems, her Facebook posts, her Essence magazine articles, her mama blog posts… basically everything by asha, ever). When I was teenager, asha told me that she woke up before dawn so that she could write before her daughter needed her. And so I started writing early in the morning and it changed everything.

Alice Walker’s writing about what she called “motherism,” building on her idea of “womanism,” and her classic book In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens (this was crucial reading for me). Audre Lorde’s essay, “Eye to Eye,” where she writes that, “We can learn to mother ourselves.” This idea of mothering ourselves along with the generous ways she writes about her practice of mothering in her essays and poems is a major inspiration. Of course, I include all of the writers in this anthology. Cheryl Boyce Taylor has a poem in this collection and she is a writer who writes a poem every single day. She is such an inspiration and I am SO glad that her poetry is in this book. And last (but not really last because there are SO many writers that inspire me) and also not least, JUNE JORDAN! Her unpublished essay where she explains her philosophy that “love is life-force” is the opening jewel of this book. Her vision and practice of how all writers can and must be accountable to children is…my religion.


KW: You refer to yourself as a scholar/writer – can you explain what this means to you?

AG: I see my role as an ancestral connection.  I love to research about the lives of black women who loved their people and changed the world.  And in my work as a researcher I seek to connect us to that love.  My own writing consists of structured opportunities for connecting to generations of love, bravery, and change.


KW: What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?

AG: Do what asha and Cheryl do. Write first. Write every day.


KW: What advice would you give to your younger self?

AG: You have nothing to prove. Ever.


KW: Tell us about the book’s cover and how it came about.

AG: The revolutionary artist Favianna Rodriguez made this beautiful image for the Mama’s Day series of cards, which is an amazing benefit for a coalition called Strong Families. This coalition is a major inspiration for us. Strong Families has brought people together to fight to change the oppressive laws that harm mother-led families, families of color, immigrant families, exactly the families at the center of Revolutionary Mothering. We just loved the artwork so much. I sent that mama’s day card to everyone I could think of when it first came out. We are so honored that Favianna allowed us to use it for the cover of the book!


About the Writer: Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a prayer poet priestess with a PhD in English, African and African American Studies and Women and Gender Studies from Duke University. Dr. Gumbs is the first scholar to research Audre Lorde’s archival papers at Spelman College and is the founder of the School of Our Lorde, a night school in Durham, NC focused on the work of Audre Lorde.  She is published widely in scholarly journals and collections including Signs, Obsidian, The Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Literature and The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature and has published chapters on Audre Lorde’s work in the collections Mothering in Hip Hop Culture and Laboring On: Mothers in the Academy.  She is one of the editors of the forthcoming book, Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines. Find her on Facebook or Twitter (@alexispauline) and read more on her blog.

About the Interviewer: Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor, Department of Communication at Loyola University Maryland and the Founding Executive Director at The Emilie Frances Davis Center for Education, Research, and Culture. Her most recent work, Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America, was published by Apprentice House in January 2015.