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Blending history and memoir, a beautiful and innovative portrait of motherhood
In Mother Is a Verb, a highly original interpretation of mothering, the writer, feminist and historian Sarah Knott weaves a tale that begins with her own story, as she grapples with whether to have a child, before expanding into maternity in other places and times. Knott structures the book to mirror the phases of pregnancy and early mothering, and covers everything from miscarriage to late-night feedings, from morning sickness to evolving terminologies. Though her own story is ever-present—we feel the baby on her hip, always at her side—Knott uses her present moment as a means of exploring the past, drawing on techniques from literary nonfiction and feminist maternal theory’s embrace of anecdote. She builds a trellis of tiny scenes of mothering, using diaries, letters, reports, court records, conduct guides, clothing, and objects, as well as her own experiences. In so doing, Knott creates an unexpectedly moving and visceral depiction of mothering, past and present, as both a shared and an endlessly various human experience. Mothering, in her hands, is bodily but not merely biological.
Sarah Knott grew up in England. Educated at Oxford University, she is now a professor of history at Indiana University. She is the author of Mother is a Verb, Sensibility and the American Revolution, and numerous articles on the histories of women, gender, and emotion. Knott has served as an editor of the American Historical Review, the American Historical Association’s flagship journal, and sits on the editorial board of Past and Present. She is a fellow of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.