The baby on the fire escape Creativity, motherhood, and the mind-baby problem

Julie Phillips

Book - 2022

"An insightful and provocative exploration of the relationship between motherhood and art through the lives of women artists and writers. What does it mean to create, not in "a room of one's own," but in a domestic space? Do children and genius rule each other out? In The Baby on the Fire Escape, award-winning biographer Julie Phillips traverses the shifting terrain where motherhood and creativity converge. With fierce empathy and vivid prose, Phillips evokes the intimate str...uggles of brilliant artists and writers, including Doris Lessing, who had to choose between her motherhood and herself; Ursula K. Le Guin, who found productive stability in family life; Audre Lorde, whose queer, polyamorous union allowed her to raise children on her own terms; and Alice Neel, who once, to finish a painting, was said to have left her baby on the fire escape of her New York apartment. A meditation on maternal identity and artistic greatness, The Baby on the Fire Escape illuminates some of the most pressing conflicts in contemporary women's lives"--

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809.89287/Phillips
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2nd Floor New Shelf 809.89287/Phillips (NEW SHELF) Due May 27, 2022
Subjects
Published
New York, NY : W.W. Norton & Company [2022]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
310 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 281-310).
ISBN
9780393088595
0393088596
Main Author
Julie Phillips (author)
  • The Mind-Baby Problem
  • "The Presiding Genius of Her Own Body"
  • Outlaw Mothering: Alice Neel (1900-1984)
  • All the Time: Art Monsters and Maintenance Work
  • The Discomfort Zone: Sex and Love
  • Incompatible Pleasures: Doris Lessing (1919-2013)
  • The Discomfort Zone: The Unavailable Muse
  • "Poems Are Housework": Books versus Babies
  • All Happy Families: Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018)
  • The Discomfort Zone: Ghosts
  • The Discomfort Zone: Late Success
  • Mother, Poet, Warrior: Audre Lorde (1934-1992)
  • The Discomfort Zone: Not Being All There
  • Freedom: Alice Walker (1944-)
  • The Baby on the Writing Desk; or, Two Things at Once
  • Her Own Version: Angela Carter (1940-1992)
  • Time and the Story.
Review by Booklist Reviews

What is the relationship between motherhood and creativity? Is there a pattern to this complex juncture? To answer these questions, Phillips (James Tiptree, Jr.) delves into the lives of twentieth century artist/writer-mothers like Alice Neel, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Their stories demonstrate two common threads: (1) the importance of time, wherever it might be found, and (2) boundaries and the conviction that making art is a woman's right. Meaty biographical chapters are interspersed with shorter sections on topics like sex and love; the burden placed on women to choose between a life of the mind and a life with children; and the phenomenon of critical success after children grow up. Phillips's insights—like the disconnect between a creative's expectation of unbroken focus and the reality of mothering as a state of constant interruption—are essential, but stacks of quotes from famous writers, philosophers, psychoanalysts, and others turn into litanies. This book offers no formula for success, but identifies in its subjects a shared willingness to break with convention and expectation. Copyright 2022 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

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.—Emily Bowles Copyright 2022 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

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.—Emily Bowles Copyright 2022 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Critic Phillips (James Tiptree Jr.) explores the conflicting demands of being a mother and creating art in this astute look at how trailblazing artists stayed true to their craft. When people imagine artists, Phillips suggests, they picture "solitary concentration." To counter this, the author asks, "What does it mean to create, not... in ‘a room of one's own,' but in a shared space?" She examines a wealth of artists' lives and work: American painter Alice Neel, for example, lost two daughters and was coerced into relinquishing her third to disapproving relatives and escaped to Greenwich Village, where she raised her subsequent children with other "orphans of the avante-garde" and created art that was startling in its frank portrayal of maternal unease. South African novelist Doris Lessing is infamous for leaving her children, but Phillips digs through correspondence to reveal a more nuanced account of a woman who lost the legal rights to her children after divorce. Audre Lorde's "open marriage to a gay man," meanwhile, "was a practical way to raise children as a lesbian." Phillips's sharp observations and candor add force to the survey: "Thinking about mothers awakened my desire for safety and conventionality, and some things mothers did made me uncomfortable." The result is a memorable examination of game-changing artists. (Apr.) Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"An insightful and provocative exploration of the relationship between motherhood and art through the lives of women artists and writers. What does it mean to create, not in "a room of one's own," but in a domestic space? Do children and genius rule eachother out? In The Baby on the Fire Escape, award-winning biographer Julie Phillips traverses the shifting terrain where motherhood and creativity converge. With fierce empathy and vivid prose, Phillips evokes the intimate struggles of brilliant artists and writers, including Doris Lessing, who had to choose between her motherhood and herself; Ursula K. Le Guin, who found productive stability in family life; Audre Lorde, whose queer, polyamorous union allowed her to raise children on her own terms; and Alice Neel, who once, to finish a painting, was said to have left her baby on the fire escape of her New York apartment. A meditation on maternal identity and artistic greatness, The Baby on the Fire Escape illuminates some of the most pressing conflicts incontemporary women's lives"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

The Baby on the Fire EscapeWith fierce empathy, Phillips evokes the intimate and varied struggles of brilliant artists and writers of the twentieth century. Ursula K. Le Guin found productive stability in family life, and Audre Lorde’s queer, polyamorous union allowed her to raise children on her own terms. Susan Sontag became a mother at nineteen, Angela Carter at forty-three. These mothers had one child, or five, or seven. They worked in a studio, in the kitchen, in the car, on the bed, at a desk, with a baby carrier beside them. They faced judgement for pursuing their creative work—Doris Lessing was said to have abandoned her children, and Alice Neel’s in-laws falsely claimed that she once, to finish a painting, left her baby on the fire escape of her New York apartment.The Baby on the Fire Escape

Review by Publisher Summary 3

An insightful, provocative, and witty exploration of the relationship between motherhood and art—for anyone who is a mother, wants to be, or has ever had one.