M. M. De Voe

New York
New York

Arthur Phillips.jpg

Man reading to audience.

Author Arthur Phillips has appeared twice at Pen Parentis. Photo by Darius Suziedelis

The day I lost my literary agent we were scheduled for high tea at Cipriani.

Instead of arriving sleek and urban, fierce with stories of writing success, I arrived sweaty and late, pushing a stroller that had a screeching child in it. Heads turned as I hurried over to the table where my gorgeous LA agent sat, worrying where I was. I apologized: Day care had sent my toddler home with a fever, and it would just be a minute—I would be happy to pay for the tea (ouch) if only she would wait a moment while I strollered my son to sleep downstairs.

That was my last tea at Cipriani.

By 2008, I had a second child and no idea how I would ever finish a book. A weekly lunch with a friend in a similar situation kept me going, but we were talking in circles. How can we keep writing? How can we find the time/energy/money to survive as artists if we are also parents? We only had questions.

What do you do when you need help? You ask experts. She and I founded a reading series presenting the creative works of authors who are also parents, envisioning a small, after-work meetup in the Wall Street area. Maybe we could get a few secretaries in a book club to show up…

The first event was standing room only. By the end of the season, authors were coming to us. They craved community.

We have just celebrated the close of our 14th season, and have presented such luminaries as Jennifer Egan, Darin Strauss, Lev Grossman, Ed Lin, Kelly Link, Arthur Phillips, Victor LaValle, Sarah Pekkanen, and more than a hundred others, all of whom are remarkable writers and all of whom balance the 24/7 demands of their children with successful writing careers. Trios and quartets of authors meet over wine, read from their newest creative work, and are led in intimate moderated discussion about time management, creative process, and, of course, books, books, books! We love books. Our audiences get to meet the author as a whole person—not just a celebrity paid by a bookstore or publisher to sell and sign, we present them as artists, as masterful creators who are nonetheless real people who have overcome ordinary problems and have kept on with their art—or sometimes found solace in their art, or sometimes even made breakthroughs thanks to their art—providing inspiration for all of us to keep going.

Even me. For I remain a writer who is also a parent, struggling to get through the final edits of a novel while running from violin lessons to soccer, from theater rehearsals to dance performances, but who still makes time to publish short stories whenever I can. I find inspiration in the stories of the writers that I host—and between salons I find inspiration in the pages of the books they have written. It has been almost eight years that I have run Pen Parentis, and I still feel like I have a lot to learn. It is a joy to meet so many writers that balance family in such a successful way. It is an inspiration to see how the audience is charged, how excited people are when they hear of Pen Parentis for the first time—and we are reaping the success of that organic growth.

I’m still just a mom who writes, but turns out? So is Jennifer Egan.

M. M. De Voe
New York, NY