The Baby on the Fire Escape: Creativity, Motherhood, and the Mind-Baby Problem

The Baby on the Fire Escape: Creativity, Motherhood, and the Mind-Baby Problem

by Julie Phillips
The Baby on the Fire Escape: Creativity, Motherhood, and the Mind-Baby Problem

The Baby on the Fire Escape: Creativity, Motherhood, and the Mind-Baby Problem

by Julie Phillips

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Overview

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.

What does a great artist who is also a mother look like? What does it mean to create, not in “a room of one’s own,” but in a domestic space? In The Baby on the Fire Escape, award-winning biographer Julie Phillips traverses the shifting terrain where motherhood and creativity converge.

With 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.

As she threads together vivid portraits of these pathbreaking women, Phillips argues that creative motherhood is a question of keeping the baby on that apocryphal fire escape: work and care held in a constantly renegotiated, provisional, productive tension. A meditation on maternal identity and artistic greatness, The Baby on the Fire Escape illuminates some of the most pressing conflicts in contemporary life.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781324064435
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 05/02/2023
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 437,538
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Julie Phillips is the National Book Critics Circle Award–winning author of James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon. The recipient of a Whiting Creative Nonfiction grant, she lives in Amsterdam with her partner and their two children.

Table of Contents

The Mind-Baby Problem 1

"The Presiding Genius of Her Own Body" 21

Outlaw Mothering: Alice Neel (1900-1984) 27

All the Time: Art Monsters and Maintenance Work 57

The Discomfort Zone: Sex and Love 65

Incompatible Pleasures: Doris Lessing (1919-2013) 73

The Discomfort Zone: The Unavailable Muse 103

"Poems Are Housework": Books versus Babies 111

All Happy Families: Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018) 121

The Discomfort Zone: Ghosts 149

The Discomfort Zone: Late Success 159

Mother, Poet, Warrior: Audre Lorde (1934-1992) 165

The Discomfort Zone: Not Being All There 195

Freedom: Alice Walker (1944-) 211

The Baby on the Writing Desk; or, Two Things at Once 239

Her Own Version: Angela Carter (1940-1992) 245

Time and the Story 273

Acknowledgments 279

Notes 281

Bibliography 308

Text Credits 311

Illustration Credits 312

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