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Literary history is populated with plenty of notable parent-and-child writers, across the years (Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley; Andre Dubus II and Andre Dubus III, to name a few)-which is not to place my own parent child relationship in such renowned company. Rather, I'm seeking to explore the unique patterns and themes that emerge where parenthood and the profession of writing intersect. What are the inherent privileges and problems that mark such relationships? How do they develop? To what extent does the parent-writer cast both a shadow and a light on the child's career-and vice versa? How do they negotiate the complicated feelings toward appearing, as characters, in each other's work? Finally-and most important-how do they protect their relationship from all of this potential conflict?

Dogged by these questions, I recently picked up the biographies and memoirs of three contemporary parent-and-child writer duos: James and Christopher Dickey; Alice and Sheila Munro; and Alice and Rebecca Walker. All three cases, like any parent-child relationship, are fully unique in their circumstances and dynamics, but examined collectively, it's impossible to overlook a few running themes and common denominators: I) the writer's strong ambivalence toward having children, in the first place, for the threat they pose to one's career-and, in turn, the threat that such a career imposes on the son's or daughter's sense of security and well-being; 2) the pressure the son or daughter feels to emulate the parent's literary success while forging his/her own writing career; and 3) one or both parties' attempts to reconcile their mutual hurt-or not-resulting in further fodder for writing.


This essay first appeared in Grist. The copy of record is available from the publisher at Copyright © 2017 Grist. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.