Five years ago, poet and essayist Julianne Palumbo founded the online literary magazine Mothers Always Write to offer readers insightful pieces about parenting and to give mothers and fathers and writers a place to gather and create community.
Now, she works with fellow editors Michelle Riddell and Sarah Clayville to publish parenting experiences from birthing infants to embracing the empty nest. “We’re looking for word choice and form and use of figurative language so strong that we feel like we’re actually there with the writer,” Palumbo explains. “We want pieces that create an emotion we just can’t shake.”
Tone, editorial content of Mothers Always Write
“We get a lot of writing about really interesting mother issues,” she says, “but they’re not all written in a literary way. We believe how the words are arranged in a piece is just as important as what those words are saying.”
She admires the literary quality of Alexandra Umlas’s essay titled “Sticks” (6/19/19) about watching a 7-year-old girl who sits mesmerized by a TV program on which artist Bob Ross shows viewers how to paint mountains. “Bob Ross is teaching my daughter how to paint,” Umlas writes, “but his voice hints at other things: science, philosophy, life, and even death.”
Palumbo immediately gravitated toward the writing style. “It’s layer upon layer,” she explains. “The author is watching her daughter, who’s watching Bob, who’s painting a picture, and there are layers of what that all means to life.”
She also appreciates Marissa Glover’s “I Don’t Want to Write Any More Poems” (12/30/19), which rails against poetry because it can’t cook dinner or empty the dishwasher. Glover writes:
“They won’t fold
clothes or fill the car with gas or sit at a desk
eight hours a day, listening to the boss bark.”
By the end of the piece, however, she acknowledges poetry’s power to offer solace and community in the midst of parenting challenges.
“It’s one of my favorite poems,” Palumbo says. “It’s such a common struggle, and maybe every mother writer goes through it at some point in her career. Do I sit down in my free time and write, or should I be doing more mothering?”
Several readers wrote in to respond to Tara Mandarano’s essay “If I Don’t Have More Than One Child, Am I Still a Good Mother?” (4/3/17). “It was hugely popular,” Palumbo says. “Tara’s piece addresses a struggle that a lot of women go through. They wonder what it means about them that they don’t want a second child. The essay explores that inner struggle, how mothers judge themselves.”
Palumbo was also excited to feature Alizabeth Worley’s “Lullaby” (2/24/20). “It’s a short essay about rocking a baby to sleep and about what sleep means to motherhood on so many different levels,” she says. “Sometimes, sleep happens too fast, or you can’t get a child to sleep. She plays with the word in a literary way.”
Mothers Always Write includes a small percentage of writing by fathers. “We’ve published some really tender, honest pieces from dads about their viewpoint on motherhood,” Palumbo says.
One of these pieces was a poem by Eric Roller “it is time tho” (6/16/19). The piece explores his complicated feelings about sending his daughter off to college and how little she appears to care about their impending separation. The poem struck a chord with a poet, Ingrid Anders, who published a response piece (8/19/19). Titled “Push Me!,” it begins: “You graduated preschool yesterday. Today is the first day of summer break and we are together all day. I am anxious about the loss of my writing time. My quiet time. My me time.”
“We had a guy’s point of view, and then the point of view of a mother who was very much taken by his poem,” Palumbo says. Both contributors commented on each other’s pieces online, so readers were able to witness their dialogue around parenting and writing.
The editors also build community by offering online “Boot Camps.” For up to three weeks, participants receive one-on-one coaching and peer review from other attendees for poetry or essays, via a private Facebook group.
“We work with writers to produce three drafts of a piece and provide them with writing exercises and articles,” Palumbo explains. “We’ve worked with a ton of new writers, and an overwhelming majority have gotten their pieces published.”
Advice for potential contributors
The editors aren’t looking for political writing or profane pieces, and they’re not interested in submissions that discredit faith. They look for essays, non-rhyming poetry, and book reviews that explore the experience of mothering children birth to age 12, in middle school and high school, and as adults.
“There’s a ton of mother writing out there, so it’s going to be difficult to come up with a brand-new issue that no one has ever written about,” Palumbo says. She suggests that instead, writers approach topics with a new angle, with some new insight that others haven’t explored.
“I’m not a person who’s into trend,” she explains. “So much trendy writing dictates how we should think about things because someone has dubbed it a big issue. I don’t want to see trendy writing in our magazine. I want to see someone’s unique experience written so well that everyone understands it.”
Mothers Always Write at a glance
“A bi-monthly, online literary magazine for mothers and mother writers who consider parenting to be their highest calling.”
Genres: Poetry, literary essays, and book reviews.
Reading period: Year-round.
Length: To 2,000 words.
Payment: Up to $25.
Submission format: Via website.
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019).Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart