What was the inspiration/impetus for creating Brain,
Child? What was going on in your lives when you came up with
the concept for the publication?
We had our
first babies within six months of each other, and we were writing
about our experiences, which we found amazingly life-altering. (Stephanie
wrote this great essay on colic, and I wrote a piece about getting
called a housewife by a former co-worker). As it turns out, there
weren't very many places to send our work. And since we wanted to
both write for -- and more importantly, read -- a magazine like
Brain, Child, we started one.
Did either of you have any publishing experience prior to
launching Brain, Child?
I had worked at an alternative newsweekly in
Charlottesville, Virginia in a variety of positions, including managing
editor. Since it was a small paper when I started (and grew leaps
and bounds while I was employed there), I got to get my hands in
a lot of aspects of the business, from writing and editing to circulation
to graphic design. But really my background was on the editorial
side of things. We bought a book, literally called How to Start
and Run a Successful Newsletter or Magazine, and it was really
I had worked as a journalist for high-tech and business publications,
and then when I went back to graduate school, I began writing for
the newspaper Jennifer was managing editor of. I mostly covered
literary happenings in Charlottesville and wrote a books-and-authors
sort of feedback did you get on the concept for Brain, Child?
Did you encounter any skepticism about the market for a magazine
directed to an audience of thinking mothers?
We did. Someone told us that there was no market (although I had
no delusions that Stephanie and I were this unique breed of women).
I think part of the problem was that it was a hard concept to explain.
Was it going to be like a traditional parenting magazine, but we'd
get into the hard science behind, say, diaper rash? Was it going
to be really earnest or academic? Was it going to be all lovey-dovey
with tributes to our kids? I think there are so many stereotypes
out there about mothering (and magazines targeted to mothers) that
it was hard to come up with a concise mission statement. In fact,
I still have a hard time explaining what Brain, Child's
about without explaining what it's not. Part of that's my own inarticulateness,
but I think another part is that the mothering-equals-doing-laundry-and-wiping-noses
concept is so ingrained in our culture. Motherhood is still paired
up with apple pie, like it's a monolithic, American thing.
I mostly got feedback from people in the world of small-magazine
publishing, who just kept stressing what an incredibly hard undertaking
launching a magazine is, and how high the failure rate is (50% don’t
make it past the first year; 75% don’t last four years). But
everyone also assured me that quality will out. You can have a lot
of money and a lot of business savvy, but if you don’t have
a good concept and good execution, it’s all a bust. Given
that we’re still around and going strong -- and that we’re
winning awards to boot -- I think we’re proving that our concept
and our content are solid.
of financial arrangements did you make to get the first issue into circulation?
We started out (and continue to operate) on a small budget,
at least by publishing standards. We took the money out of our savings
to print, how long did it take you produce the first issue? What
was the quantity of your first run, and how many copies are you
We were in start-up mode for a year and printed 5000 copies
of the first issue in March 2000. Our circulation is 22,000 now.
We’re on newsstands in every state in the US, in many places
in Canada, and we have subscribers as far flung as Switzerland,
South Africa, Australia, Egypt and China, to name a few.
articles have generated the greatest response— positive or
negative— from your readers? Why do you think those particular
topics struck a chord?
Well, I think there are two different ways of looking at it:
what generates the mail and what I hear about a lot -- the pieces
that our readers might not write to us about, but ones that stick
in their craw, especially the essays on the subjects that are taboo
in traditional parenting magazines. For example, I know plenty of
people who wanted to talk about Dianne Homan's essay on her son,
who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Or the two essays we've published
on miscarriage. Or any number of pieces that basically say, hey,
the hardest thing you go through as a mother is not necessarily
potty training. It's not all sunshine and sometimes things don't
just resolve themselves.
There is this odd phenomenon
with the mail that I've been noticing lately. The pieces that generate
the most mail are the ones that tackle different parenting philosophies:
one on the Taking Children Seriously movement, another that looked
at the anthropology behind Dr. Sears's claim that there is such
a thing as "natural" parenting. I was surprised by the
passion behind and amount of letters we got, especially on the Sears
essay by Cynthia Eller. (It'll be on our website until June). Cynthia
was thanked and applauded, but also called "vile" and
"an out-of-touch academic." I saw a discussion board in
which she was -- there's really no other word for it – attacked.
Interestingly, in the
same issue as Cynthia's essay, we published an essay by a woman
who had a late-term abortion, which I really expected to hear about
but did not. I'm thinking that there are a couple of reasons that
we get responses to pieces on parenting philosophies, but not on
ones about what many people would consider a more controversial
subject. First of all, the nastier responses to Cynthia's essay
came from people who are not Brain, Child readers
(who are generally open to hearing about a variety of parenting
styles) -- they were people who read the essay on our website, people
who seem to be very invested in their parenting expert. Secondly,
I think our culture has set up a very bizarre antagonistic relationship
between What's Right for Mom and What's Right for Baby. So, if you
open the doors to say that there's more than one "right"
way to mother, I think there will be a certain percentage of people
who take that as an indictment of their own mothering style.
I don't think that's
most of us, though. It may just come down to that all mothers can
relate more easily to the parenting philosophy pieces than ones
that deal with issues they haven't experienced.
People have also responded very positively to pieces
by some of the more famous writers we’ve published, like Barbara
Kingsolver and Jane Smiley. Not only is the quality of the writing
stellar, but I think readers like knowing that these writers go
through the same sort of parenting quandaries they do.
some of your personal favorites of the essays you’ve published
Actually we get a lot of submissions (about 400 for every 7
that we can use)— so, pretty much everything we publish we
either love or at least find really interesting. There are a few
writers that we've published several times -- Theo Pauline Nestor,
Jody Mace, Tracy Mayor; it seems like whatever they write is always
a great fit for the magazine. They have this way of being funny
and reflective and literary all at once.
Generally speaking, I
always have a soft spot for the pieces that don't wrap up tidily.
I currently have a 2 1/2 year old who is still choosing to nurse
(and who says to anyone who dares try to tear Mommy out from under
him, “Hey! I was eating that!”), so one of my favorites
right now is “Weaning Lacula” by Laura D’Angelo.
I also have a deep fondness for essays like Elizabeth Roca’s
tale of being pregnant on bedrest, “Now I Lay Me Down to Wait”
and Elizabeth Halling’s struggle to sign a “do not resuscitate”
form for her son, “This Far Out,” Sundae Horn’s
comedy of earth-motherhood-gone-askew, “Planting My Placenta,”
and Tracy Mayor’s “Losing My Religion,” which
we just heard won a Pushcart Prize!
do you think Brain, Child contributes to changing cultural
attitudes about motherhood?
Like Stephanie wrote in the magazine early on, the magazine's existence
is a sort of warning to those who would think that mothers will
bow to whatever you tell them (for example, co-sleeping is a dangerous
practice, or nonparental childcare will create monster kids). And
this is what the title of the magazine speaks to—it's shorthand
for something like, I have a brain, I have a child, don't condescend
But when it comes right
down to it, we're written for and read by mothers, not the general
culture. I think that Brain, Child's value is in reflecting
and dispersing ideas that are already out there. For example (and
as you know!), there aren't yet a lot of places where mothers can
find out about the mothers' rights movement, and Brain, Child
can be one of those places. I also like that some of the issues
you'll find talked about fleetingly in the general media, we can
tease out and really analyze, like Jessica Handler did in her feature
on precocious puberty a few years back.
… and the feature about mothers in prison, or the one about
the damaging and often erroneous stereotypes of teen mothers, or
the one about our culture’s view of mothers’ sexuality…
We really do explore lots of things other pubs don’t.
I do think we have a
shot at affecting the general culture. I have this fixed idea that
motherhood is the most misunderstood and/or misrepresented life
role out there. There’s a fairly monolithic stereotype about
what motherhood is like, and many books and magazines and advertisements
just perpetuate it. And it’s just so easy to fall into cliches
when we talk about mothering. But by offering real, in-depth, eloquently
expressed stories about what it’s really like, maybe we can
bring about more empathy, respect, understanding—maybe even
affect some policies, who knows.
part of a larger literary trend focusing on the experience of mothering.
I could give you a list as long as your arm of books that have been
published in the last five years that are in this new category (which
some people are calling “momoir”). I like to think we’re
the lynchpin of this new movement.
been the most unexpected experience— pleasant or unpleasant—
that's come out of taking on the publication of Brain, Child?
I'd say the enthusiasm that people have expressed
about the magazine, through letters, or subscriptions, or awards.
It's incredibly gratifying and I didn't expect it.
Any plans for the future of Brain, Child you would like
The immediate plan to get the summer issue off to the printer. It's
a really good one, I think. There's an essay by Emily Jenkins about
her conversations with her grandmother (which is hilarious); one
about feeling rage towards your kids; a great, thoughtful essay
by a meteorologist about wanting to be able to predict the future
once you become a mother. The debate is on school vouchers this
Sometime in the future,
we'd like to add color to the inside of the magazine and grow, grow,
mmo : March