Race, Motherhood, and Identity

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Room Magazine vol 31.4: Race, Motherhood, and Identity
Edited by 
Elizabeth Shaffer, Joy Gugeler

This issue identifies…the factors that contribute to identity itself, specifically the confluences of race and motherhood and our attitudes toward each, for some the very crux of who we are as women in a post-millennial age. Lest the task appear too ambitious, lofty, or academic—after all, the means by which we construct ourselves are as multiple as our unique and individual selves—we promise a healthy dose of art, literature and whimsy. Though the terrain is often complex and difficult to navigate, and identity a creature of construction and invention, ultimately what shapes us, and what we in turn shape as mothers, daughters, and sisters is the stuff of art and life our canvas. 

Though some may not be mothers, nor choose to be in the future, the often-fraught relationships with our own mothers have a profound influence on self-definition, just as the genetics and geography of race interweave with notions of the feminine to cast a long shadow that embraces how we perceive and are perceived. The pieces in this issue explore the pivotal influences and flash points that form the crucible from which our identities are cast: past and present loves, life-altering acts of oppression, moments of fierce defiance, and affirming victories in the face of struggle. The women in these stories are remembering, forgetting, forgiving, and reinventing identity and though in practice this is a private voyage, we invite you to come along for a ride.

As we wade into the opening pages, Trinidadian-Canadian Shani Mootoo shares an excerpt from her upcoming memoir, a nostalgic return to the memories of her childhood in an homage to the power of literature, both plentiful and forbidden, and the early influences that forged her identity as a writer.

In "Crayons" Diane Fretz's protagonist is launched into the past by the waxy scent of the titular tools of childhood until the narrative takes a surprisingly dark turn toward the end of life rather than its innocent beginning. In Lorelie Gerwing Sarauer's piece "Postcards from the Edge" trigger flashbacks that invoke the uneasy dance of mothers and daughters, including the sinister jealousy that is so often a feature of this pas-de-deux.

Marnie Lamb's "Brown-Haired Girls" is an irreverent nod to the power of physical appearance to shape identity, adopting a voice that leaves early childhood and ports the sarcasm of youth to counter the assumption that blondes have more fun and argue that flaxen-haired women enjoy more than their fair share of adjectives.

Some survive the scars of childhood and confrontations with mothers with less grace, sliding into self-destruction and citing not what is remembered but what is missing or lost as in Evelyn Lau's three notable works. But, as the adage goes,"that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger" and so to Jill Boettger's "How toStop Missing Your Mother", Jane Goodwin's "How to Get Through" and Gillian Sze's "This is How You Turn the Soil", achingly beautiful odes to survival and are freshing poetic take on the how-to genre.

Tossed on the tides of gentle romance and missed opportunities, the women in "Lisping Beneath the Cries," "Sonnet VI," "Embrace," and "Reading Letters to Stone," are defined by nascent or unrequited loves, while the female voices of"Memorbilia" "Test Perspective +/-," and "In This Picture" revert to the water of the womb and are themselves reborn in motherhood.

The issue's penultimate section traverses the isolating waters that are a necessary rite of passage from naiveté to maturity. Though "no woman is an island", in"The Island," "Swimming Lessons," "Christmas Day," "Goddess of Low Tide,"and "Hanging Laundry in the Shadow of Texada Island," women set out alone only to realize that they are a composite of all those they have met en route.

Finally, the magazine washes ashore after touching down in Cuba, Asia, andGermany in "The Barbacoa," "Autistic in Cebu," "Kissing in the Museum," and"Pacific Index"— reminding us we are touched by history even as we try to out run it or make our own.

The last word belongs to Rebecca Walker, feminist activist for racial justice, new mother, and daughter to award-winning writer Alice Walker. Named by Time as one of the 50 most influential American leaders under 40, Walker holds forth with disarming candor about her publicly contentious relationship with her mother, her transition from ambivalence to peace as a new parent, and issues a challenge to all those who want to be identified with the next wave of revolution. We hope you enjoy this mother of an issue and race to pick up the gauntlet.

About the Contributors 

Shani Mootoo was born in Ireland and grew up in Trinidad. She has lived in Canada since the early 1980s. Her acclaimed first novel, Cereus Blooms at Night, (Press Gang, 1996) was published in fourteen countries, and was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award. Her second novel, He Drown She in the Sea (McClelland & Stewart, 2006), was longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her latest novel, Valmiki’s Daughter (Anansi) was released in Canada in November of 2008 and she is currently at work on an as-yet-untitled memoir. Mootoo is also an accomplished visual and video artist. She has lived in Vancouver and Edmonton, and now lives in Toronto.

Rebecca Walker is the author of the feminist primer To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism taught in Gender Studies programs around the world, and two memoirs, one about growing up multiracial, Black, White and Jewish, and a second, Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence. Her new book, One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love, is forthcoming in February of 2009. She also consults privately with writers developing their work for publication.

Joy Gugeler is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Orato.com, an online magazine by citizen journalists, and has worked as Editor-in-Chief of Suite101.com and as an acquisitions editor for ECW, Raincoast, Beach Holme and Quarry presses. She has been a literary journalist for the CBC, Vancouver Sun, Ottawa Citizen and the Globe and Mail and teaches editing at SFU and Ryerson. She launched the Canadian Book Camp for young adults, now in Vancouver and Toronto and sits on the Red Cedar board.

Natalie Sorenson is a Vancouver-based artist. She draws unusual decorative patterns, builds absurd sculptures and installations, and forges impossible photographs. She is currently working on her MFA at Simon Fraser University where she studies modest art, ornament, and domestic sources of contemplation.

In this issue

Kimberley Alcock
Shari Andrews
Andrea M. Blundell
Jill Boettger
Sarah Butler
Andrea Cameron
Amber Dawn
Diane Fretz
Lorelie Gerwing Sarauer
Jane Goodwin
Rachel Gray
Heidi Greco
Joy Gugeler
Amanda Hale
Elizabeth Haynes
Shaista Justin
Sarah Keevil
Marnie Lamb
Evelyn Lau
Michelle Lyn
Ruth Massey
Shani Mootoo
Sandra Pettman
Natalie Sorenson
Sylvia Stopforth
Gillian Sze
Fiona Tinwei Lam
Yi-Mei Tsiang
Rebecca Walker
Cynthia Woodman Kerkham

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