A Blogazine, based out of Park Slope, Brooklyn, that features fun and interesting articles. Topics include: parenting, society, real estate, career, style, spirituality and more. Written contributions are always welcome!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pens & Pacifiers DO Mix: Interview with M.M. De Voe and Arlaina Tibensky, Founders of Pen Parentis

By Melissa Lopata

Hip Slope Mama sat down with Pen Parentis founders M.M. De Voe and Arlaina Tibensky to find out more about the Pen Parentis Reading Series, the ups and downs of being a writer with kids, and where to find a great hamburger in the Financial District.

HSM: What's so unique about Pen Parentis?

AT: First off we want to say hey to all the Park Slope parents out there. We know there are a lot of you, and a lot of you are writers! The Pen Parentis Reading series is the only reading series that I know of that acknowledges that being a parent and a writer is a hard balance. The series celebrates the success of writers who are parents and encourages others pursuing writing with young kids to keep going. Because the reading environment is so welcoming and accepting, there is a real intimacy between the readers and audience unlike anything I’ve experienced at other readings in NYC. It’s pretty amazing.

HSM: Where does the name Pen Parentis come from?

AT: When my son was first born I thought, “This is it. Dunzo. Writing career: over.” Finding out that some of my favorite contemporary writers are also parents was liberating and exciting. I felt like I was suddenly part of this secret society-- we thought Pen Parentis sounded like a great secret society name…

HSM: What are some of the challenges you or your featured writers face being both parents and writers?

MM: In my case it's a question of having creative energy left after caring for two kids all day. Sometimes it's hard to sit down at the computer after my two year old was up all night. Another thing that more than one author has commented on is the difficulty of going to really dark places creatively when you realize that your kids will be reading this someday. Of course, she was countered by the author who actually uses her kids as creative inspiration--puts their antics right into her work!

AT: Time and money. That’s what writers always need, right? But with kids, you need twice as much of both! Plus your heart expands exponentially once you have children. Incorporating this new perspective into your work can be daunting.

HSM: Describe a typical reading?

MM: There is generally some networking to start, people talk about why they came, whether they know the readers personally. Usually I see at least three or four business cards exchanged. When the audience seems settled and has drinks in hand, the first reader begins. I'd say they read about twenty minutes or so, then there’s a break and people get another drink, talk a bit. The second reader goes up and then Arlaina and I start the Q&A with a standard question, just to get the ball rolling. Then the audience takes over and we moderate. We've had some extremely exciting sessions: once an author even announced her pregnancy at the mic! We end on time and often groups break off for dinner. Some stay to eat at the Libertine--it's a Todd English restaurant. I hear the burgers are excellent.

The Pen Parentis Series takes place in The Upstairs Library
at the Libertine Restaurant in NYC.

HSM: Name some writers who are parents you have featured.

AT: Leigh Newman, Jennifer Cody Epstein, Darin Strauss, Michael Dahlie, Rebecca Barry and Cara Hoffman. All have been really amazing readers and all have been really candid about their parenting-writing experience. In fall 2009, we are looking forward to hearing from Deborah Copaken Kogan, Sarah Langan, Stewart Lewis and Darcey Steinke to name a few!

HSM: What's been surprising?

MM: How often restaurant management changes in NYC. (laughing) Ok. No, really what's been absolutely amazing, stunning, is the warm response we've received in the writing community. Authors and their publishers have received us with open arms. Many of our readers have returned to us asaudience members. That just floored me--but they said they'd had a great time and been inspired. And that's just what we really want to do with this Pen Parentis series. Inspire. Entertain. Sell some books. And it's not just the literary community: the Downtown community has also welcomed us and written about us in the press. Really, it's just a magical experience. I feel that Arlaina and I have really uncovered a deep need and are very lucky to be the ones to fulfill it.

AT: I was most surprised at how emotional the dads got at our February reading. Darin Strauss read an essay about being a (bad) father of twins and in the Q & A almost wept about the great impact being a father has had on his work. Come to a Pen Parentis reading to see grown men cry!

HSM: What are you both working on as authors yourselves?

MM: Well, (laughing) I've been working on this novel for six hundred years, but I'm happy to tell you that I have a first draft ready. I sent it to a reader very recently. Before that, I haven't had energy for more than a bunch of short stories. Luckily they've been selling!

AT: I’m working on a collection of stories set in Washington Heights (where I live) and just completed a YA novel that I’m in love with. I’m thinking seriously about a new novel. Oh- and I have a story coming out in Inkwell in the spring that’s the first story I wrote after my son was born.

HSM: What’s coming up with the Series?

AT: The author response to the Pen Parentis Series has been amazing! Tuesday May 12, 2009 we will feature Brooklynites and award winning authors, Joanna Hershon and Josh Henkin. Joshua Henkin is the author of the novel MATRIMONY and SWIMMING ACROSS THE HUDSON. Joanna Hershon is the author of Swimming, The Outside of August, and a third novel, The German Bride.

HSM: Where can people learn more and sign up for the mailing list.

MM: www.penparentis.org is where you can sign up; it's a temporary page right now, but it does take email addresses. The official website will soon be ready-and we're very excited about it. Once we have it up we will be able to offer writing contests, message boards, all sorts of resources to this new community we're building. Oh! And we're also a group on Facebook under Pen Parentis.

The Pen Parentis Reading Series takes place the second Tuesday of every month, from 6-8 pm, in The Upstairs Library at the
Libertine restaurant, inside the stunning new Gildhall Hotel at 15 Gold Street, NYC. For more information visit www.penparentis.org