I imagine my fantasy dinner as more of a potluck pajama party: lounging on pillows in front of the fireplace, plentiful cups of hot tea rivaling the ample wine, and a smorgasbord of nibbles at our socked feet.
In that setting, I’d love to have these five literary powerhouses together for an open, honest conversation about being childless women in a world where motherhood is the ubiquitous expectation.
In my novel The Mapmaker’s Children, my two leading characters are ambitious, talented women seeking to leave their mark on history. Eden Anderson is a businesswoman in contemporary America. Sarah Brown is the daughter of John Brown in the 1860s. While separated by over 150 years, the two women share both a setting and a struggle to define their families and themselves as women without children.
I greatly admire each of my dinner party guests for their literary accomplishments and moreover, their exemplary legacy as women pioneers. The idea of having these five together (if even in fantasy) makes me giddy—for the pearls of wisdom being passed from hand to hand. You can bet I’d bring my biggest purse to the feast, gathering gems to take home until the seams split.
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My literati invitee list:
1) Ann Patchett, New York Times bestselling author of State of Wonder in which a researcher goes to the Amazon jungle in search of a miracle fertility drug that allows women to bear children at any age.
On the topic of motherhood, Ann Patchett spoke candidly with Nancy Palmer on the Huffington Post: I’m a loving person who didn’t want children— that doesn’t strike me as strange. I never wanted children, never regretted it, and never gave it much thought. It just wasn’t in me. The fact that I’ve loved many people and have taken good care of them doesn’t mean I missed my calling to motherhood, nor did I give up having children in order to write. If I had been a welder I wouldn’t have wanted children. If I’d had them I would have loved them. I didn’t have them and I’m glad.
2) Beth Hoffman, New York Times bestselling author of Looking For Me, a story about an independent shop owner who proves that love and life purpose can blossom anew at any age.
When I asked her to contribute to this dinner party parlay, Beth responded poignantly from the heart: As a child I had no interest in dolls. The things that fascinated me were nature, animals, writing and art. When I was a young adult, I confided in my grandmother that I felt no yearnings to have children. I asked her if something was “wrong” with me, and her words were fierce with love when she said, “There’s not one stitch wrong with you, honey. The world would be a boring place if we all wanted the same things.”
3) Elizabeth Gilbert, New York Times bestselling author of The Signature of All Things, a novel following the life of Alma Whittaker, a botanist who seeks to defy the cultural constraints of the late 1700s as a female innovator in the field of science.
In “A Conversation with Elizabeth Gilbert,” Elizabeth explains her personal choice: As one female friend of mine always says, “Just because you can do anything doesn’t mean you can do everything.” The question of having children was a huge one in my life—my first marriage fell apart largely, though not entirely, because of this question—and I have chosen to remain childless, which is a decision that reflects my own life, my own desires, my own destiny.
4) Oprah Winfrey, founder of Oprah’s Book Club, one of the most influential and popular reader communities in America.
In O Magazine, Oprah wrote passionately about motherhood: I believe that the choice to become a mother is the choice to become one of the greatest spiritual teachers there is…we [women] hold the power to transform the perception of motherhood. Whether we decide to work full-time while raising children, stay home with our kids, or bear no children at all, we need to understand that any put-down of the decision to mother is a threat to women’s choices everywhere.
5) Louisa May Alcott, the trailblazing female author of the classic novels Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys.
Louisa May wrote of familial devotion that captured the world’s attention for generations. Yet, she never married or had any children. Regarding how a woman could create a legacy separate from biological procreation, she wrote in 1877: Wait for no man… Bring home empty trunks, if you will, but heads full of new and larger ideas, hearts richer in the sympathy that makes the whole world kin, hands readier to help on the great work God gives humanity.
Congrats to Vivian G., Gail A., Rosa B., Susan K., Karen D., and 95 other members of the Read It Forward community! Their entries were selected at random to win an Advanced Reader’s Copy of The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy.
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