by Cantrice Janelle Penn
I lick my lips, encrusted with bits of sea salt, as I text Alexis Pauline Gumbs—co-editor of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines—from the sandy coast of the Carolinas about my forthcoming review of her book. After heading to the water’s edge without sunscreen, I now find myself nursing my first-ever sunburn on both brown shoulders, anointing them with my own kisses and a few drops of aloe vera. When I was little, other kids used to say that asunburn retained heat because the sun itself would literally get into your skin and stay there long after a day at the beach.
Revolutionary Mothering does just that—pulsing with electrifying storytelling, this anthology gets into your skin.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens and Mai’a Williams have carved out a collaborative space in the shape of love, by offering us this broader definition of “motherhood.” They have effortlessly weaved together storythreads from all corners of the globe to produce this urgent, necessary project—one with the potential to serve as a working blueprint for our communities.
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Inspired by its radical, feminist-of-color predecessor, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, this latest incarnation—originally entitled, This Bridge Called My Baby—is a loving meditation on multiply marginalized mama figures trying to make it work with what they got within the confines of the anti-Black, white supremacist, capitalist, ableist, cisheteropatriarchal systems that pin the proverbial boot against our chests, attempting to slowly suffocate us all as we struggle to draw a collective breath in the name of liberation.
This anthology centers the voices of Black mothers and mothers of color, queer mothers, poor and working-class mothers, disabled mothers, and immigrant mothers who offer their lived experiences in the form of poetry, essays, manifestos, photo montages and play scripts. But as a “non-parent” with my own complicated relationship with mothering, I didn’t think I’d be able to relate.
Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I cracked open Revolutionary Mothering, finding story after story detailing real shit—the raw, the unpopular, the vulnerable. Stuff we’re not supposed to admit to in “woke” communities. Like the mother with dark skin who secretly hopes that her unborn child won’t inherit her own melanin and seems quite aware of how deep the well of internal oppression can run. Or the mother in the US who attempts to adopt a child from her home country, only to find herself navigating the very western, white systems that she otherwise actively resists. Or the mother who reflects on a heteronormative relationship maintained with her then-husband whom she carried financially through school while suppressing her budding identities.
What Revolutionary Mothering is not is another collection of writings by revolutionary-minded folks using all the right social-justice language and providing all the right answers as to how to mother children the “radical” way. It is also not an attempt to stuff marginalized parents or parenting into some other hegemonic box patterned after the oppressive systems that shape most of our world.
Instead, this anthology explodes with textured, necessary truth-telling, penned by the voices of those pushed to the margins and crushed by the state. Revolutionary Mothering offers tools of hope to help us redefine what “mothering” can mean for each of us. The emotionally charged accounts of motherhood lighting up these pages indeed challenge that tired, “having-it-all” narrative force-fed to all of us by mainstream media outlets, and instead, presents us with mother figures who operate in spiritual abundance through the communities that sustain them, whether a job, partner(s), or children are in the picture or not.
Brimming with rare treats and gems of wisdom—like June Jordan’s powerful essay, “The Creative Spirit: Children’s Literature,” in which she proclaims at the start, “Love is lifeforce” (a mantra that Gumbs affirms repeatedly), and Lisa Factora-Borchers’ line, “Transformation does not have a name or a label, it has a sound,” in the essay, “Birthing a New Feminism”—Revolutionary Mothering provides a loving home for stories on mothering our children, our communities and ourselves. I must also note the anthology’s beautifully illustrated cover—courtesy of Favianna Rodriguez’s artistic brilliance—with colors that pop and crackle against equally searing testimony.
As I return from my sojourn at the ocean, I now look to my blistered shoulders, which have lost a bit of their sun-scorched, violet hue. While the pain has subsided under my skin, its delicate layers are beginning to shed. After turning the last page of Revolutionary Mothering, I notice that my soul feels anew. My own spiritual layers peeled back. My heart open and ready to receive.
In times like these, Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines teaches me that hope, love and change are always possible.
Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines is now available from PM Press.
Cantrice Janelle Penn is a writer, editor, multilingual educator and movement artist whose work is rooted in the push-pull, cyclic nature of the multiverse; the convergence of past, present and future; and the mapping of identities on the complex terrain of mind, body and community. She is currently developing a full-length work of fiction.