The Baby on the Fire Escape: Creativity, Motherhood, and the Mind-Baby Problem

Norton. Apr. 2022. 304p. ISBN 9780393088595. $27.95. LIT
Phillips (James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon) explores and explodes the interpenetrations among motherhood and authorship—as a profession and a passion—through analyses of women novelists (Ursula Le Guin; Doris Lessing; Audre Lorde; Margaret Mead; Alice Walker). For Phillips, these women’s fictional and life stories are anything but conventional, even though each has had to conform, at times and by degrees, to socially constructed images of motherhood. In each chapter, Phillips explores connections between mothering and creative work. Here “mothering” doesn’t necessarily mean parenting; rather, it’s the extent to which a writer must sacrifice their claim to femininity or family in order to pursue their career. Phillips’s book is engaging and accessible, especially when carefully discussing the private life of Lorde (a Black lesbian mother) and its influence on her writing; black-and-white portraits of the novelists are a highlight.
VERDICT These constructions are far from new, yet Phillips’s powerfully researched, thoughtful, sensitive examinations will be of interest to literary scholars as well as to general readers grappling with their own oscillating creative and pragmatic selves.
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