CW: Child loss
(February 2, 2021) Ann Hood is the New York Times best-selling author of 14 novels, 4 memoirs, a short story collection, a 10-book series for middle readers, and 1 young adult novel. Her essays and short stories have appeared in many journals, magazines, and anthologies, including The Paris Review, Ploughshares, and Tin House. She is a regular contributor to the Home Economics column in The New York Times Op-Ed page, and her most recent work is Kitchen Yarns, published with W.W. Norton and Company in early 2019. She is a faculty member in the MFA in Creative Writing program at The New School in New York City and lives in Providence, Rhode Island, with her husband and their children. She describes writer-motherhood in three words as “best thing ever.”
FROM THE EPISODE: READING LIST & REFERENCES
Ann Hood’s website
Ann’s essay “The Boys of Summer,” NYT
Ann’s Craft Talks
Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference
The Lehman Trilogy
F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Addams Family
Charles Addams cartoons
The Pushcart Prize
Labor Day, edited by Eleanor Henderson
Wanting a Child, edited by Helen Schulman and Jill Bialosky
“Hamlet and His Problems,” T.S. Eliot on objective correlative
Andre Dubus III
I’ve always loved to travel, so it seemed kind of natural to become a flight attendant. I wanted to be a writer. I thought, well, if I’m a flight attendant, I will surely have adventures that will give me more things to write about.
I loved my 20s. I was the happiest flight attendant. I was writing. I sold my book in my 20s. I just couldn’t see how kids would fit into my life. I had a long-term boyfriend who I adored, and we had this very distant, fuzzy idea of having kids someday, but it wasn’t something we talked about a lot or planned. I never had that biological clock ticking thing. Once I decided to have a baby, then I was all on board, and it wasn’t a hard decision. Once I had one, I wanted, like, five. I just loved it.
Because I was a writer for so long without children, I used to do whatever I wanted when I wanted. If I wanted to stay up all night writing, that was fine. If I wanted to lock myself away for a few days and finish a project, that was fine. If I wanted to drink in the afternoon, that was fine. Anything was fine! And all of a sudden, it’s like, oh my goodness, this is gonna be a challenge.
I had made the decision that I wasn’t going to be a parent whose baby dictated their life. I wanted kids to be part of the life I had built, because I thought I built this really fun, exciting life, and I thought they should fit into it. From the time my son was a baby, I was taking him all over the world with me. I was taking him on book tours. These things have got to coexist. I put him in those little chairs that you can bounce and bounced it with my foot and wrote my novels or essays or whatever I was working on.
“I had made the decision that I wasn’t going to be a parent whose baby dictated their life. I wanted kids to be part of the life I had built, because I thought I built this really fun, exciting life, and I thought they should fit into it.”
When I was in labor, I was judging the Barnes and Noble First Book Award.
I think pretty quickly, once my son was past being a toddler and went off to two hours three times a week to school, I retrained to myself to write when those hours opened up. I think so many women do that. I read an essay by Anne Tyler once in which she said that she would take her kids to school in her pajamas, get them out of the car, and run home to write and then pick them up. You know, all the other moms were like, “Are you still doing that writing thing?” Because she wouldn’t sit around and chat, because she knew she had that many hours. I think a lot of women who are writers and mothers have learned to do that same thing. It’s like nap time–okay I can write. Or a play date, I can write for three hours or whatever.
After Grace died, I didn’t write for about two years. I remember a really wise writer friend of mine said, “Of course you can’t write, because we write to make sense of things, and there is no sense to what happened.” Your mind can’t even try to make sense of it.
I sat down, and I wrote on post-it notes all the facets of grief. Then I looked at them all, and I chose the ones that I thought were the most interesting and created a character to sort of reflect that emotion. I had hope and love and resignation and regret, and then I made up characters to personify those things. And that was The Knitting Circle.
Over the course of writing The Knitting Circle and when it first came out, I would have this idea about grief, as if I figured out one little, tiny piece of it. I’d write an essay about that little, tiny piece.
I’ve had so many people—hundreds, maybe more—say, “You’re expressing what I don’t know how to say,” or “You wrote about something that I couldn’t explain,” or people would say they gave the book to their mother or friend or husband. For me, that made it worthwhile to talk about it, although it’s always hard.
Before I had children, I still wrote about motherhood, I think because I’m so family-oriented, and I came from a big family. The thing that interests me is relationships between mothers and daughters; sisters—I don’t even have a sister, but women. More than love stories, I like the women’s stories. Every time I would write a book, my mother would say to me, “Another bad mother. Everybody’s gonna think I’m the worst mother. I don’t like that.” They’re not bad mothers; they’re flawed. Once I had kids, I’m not sure my writing changed that much, except I was a better writer. I think I could explore things more deeply.
I kind of saw motherhood as a grand adventure, which I think it is. There were times, especially when Sam and Grace were little, when I can remember being in a grocery store, and they were just off the wall, being bad and running. I remember thinking, “No, this isn’t what this is supposed to be. I don’t like this part.” They were pretty much all good kids and did what they were supposed to do and were creative and fun. I had a lot of fun with them, but there were those moments when it was like, this isn’t what I signed up for. But mostly, I just always thought of it as an adventure.
When my kids were little, I would say, “You can’t come in this room for an hour.” I think it gets easier when they’re older.
By the time I had my first kid, I already had written six books and I had columns in magazines. I was always working. But I have so many women students who feel guilty writing because they don’t think they’ve earned it, because they haven’t published yet. I’ve had women tell me that their husbands have said they could write for one year, and if you don’t finish it or the book doesn’t sell, then it’s not for you. We know that’s not how writing or publishing works. It makes me feel bad that in 2021, women are still feeling guilty about their dream or their work or their passion.
“It makes me feel bad that in 2021, women are still feeling guilty about their dream or their work or their passion.”
From when Sam was quite young, I was always a firm believer in the babysitter. We lived right near Brown University, and they just had a bulletin board with little paper you ripped off. I called up every kid, like, “Come. I need to work.” I think it’s great for your kid to be with a teenager. I would say we’re still very close to probably 60 to 70 percent of those babysitters.
Work—and your passion—don’t always make money. We will not be valued unless we value ourselves and what we’re doing, and I always saw the value in my writing time. I used to take my kids on book tours with me because I wanted them to see what I do. I wanted them to see that people show up. Sometimes there’s 4 people in the room, and sometimes it’s 400 people. I always wanted them to see it.
“Work—and your passion—don’t always make money. We will not be valued unless we value ourselves and what we’re doing. If you see your writing as worthwhile, then it is.”
If you see your writing as worthwhile, then it is.
I think my son completely loves that I’m a writer because it allowed him to pursue acting. I never once said, “You can’t major in theater” or “You’re wasting your time” or “That’s your hobby.” He wanted to be an actor, and I got it, because I’m an artist, too. He was shocked when someone said to him once, “Your mother’s gonna let you major in theater in college?” He couldn’t imagine that someone wouldn’t.
My kids appreciate what I do. I can I hear, when they introduce me to their friends, that they’re proud because they know it’s hard to be a writer, that you sit with nothing and you make something.