Ashlee Gadd: Storytelling, motherhood, and creativity in community
Ashlee Gadd is the founder of Coffee + Crumbs, a collaborative blog about motherhood. She and her team of writers recently published a book, The Magic of Motherhood, which was gifted to me after Joanie's birth by my friend Jess Liao. Here, we talk about writing, nurturing creativity through community, and shaping perceptions of motherhood.
You describe yourself as a “self-taught writer.” What is your background with writing, and how did that background eventually lead to launching a blog and publishing a book?
I have always loved to write. As a young girl, I loved writing stories and filling up journals (so much teenage angst, where else could I channel it?!). I started a personal blog in 2009 somewhat on a whim; I had graduated college the year before and was still figuring out what I wanted to do career-wise. Originally, I started a personal blog as a creative outlet, and I certainly wouldn’t have called myself a writer back then. But the more I wrote, the more I loved to write. Somewhere along the lines, I started calling myself a writer, even though I still felt like an imposter.
Why create Coffee + Crumbs as a collaborative blog?
I loved keeping a personal blog, and still keep one to this day! But my vision for Coffee + Crumbs always stemmed from a desire to create a collective memoir of sorts. Our individual stories will always be limited to our individual experiences and perspectives, but our collaborative experiences lend themselves to a bigger, greater story.
Coffee + Crumbs is so unique for its choice to focus exclusively on storytelling. To me, this seems like a courageous and risky decision - stories about motherhood are so viscerally felt. How do you encourage a community of writers to tell personal stories around this theme, knowing that you will inevitably have moments of disagreement?
This is such a good question. Honestly, I want to acknowledge the Coffee + Crumbs readership here, because they have been supportive and gracious from day one. Our readers have made us feel safe to be vulnerable and honest, even when we’re writing about something difficult or uncomfortable. In terms of encouraging the writers to speak honestly even though we may disagree—I believe this is where humility comes into place. We were all perfect mothers before we became mothers. As we continue to grow, both as mothers and writers, we learn more and more about how much we don’t know. Humility goes a long way with this type of writing, and I believe that’s partly why our readers have been so empathetic toward us—they appreciate that we write not from a place of mastery, but from a place of figuring it out as we go.
How do you manage the risk that comes with writing about motherhood on a shared public platform? What are some measures you take to keep yourself vulnerable and truthful even as your audience grows?
While our team is technically spread out across the country, we provide a lot of this accountability to one another. As our audience grows, so does the temptation to write “safe”—but I believe we keep each other brave. We love each other too much to let one another be cowards on the page.
Yes! Mother to Mother is our initiative to connect our readers to mothers in need around the globe. Right now we’re focusing on a specific group of mothers in Guatemala, who Melanie Dale and I had the opportunity to meet last year. Through the generous support of our C+C readers, we were able to fund our first initiative with Puerto de Esperanza, a CarePoint that provides resources to a group of mothers living in Guatemala City. Here’s our latest update on what they’re up to.
Exhale is our new online community geared toward women who want to pursue creativity alongside motherhood. All of us at C+C are crazy passionate about making beautiful things while raising children, and Exhale is sort of like our own little mentorship program. We’ve taken everything we know about writing and creativity and turned it into a collection of lessons, writing prompts, journaling exercises, artist interviews, podcasts, videos, and more. Our hope and prayer for Exhale is to encourage mothers just like we do at Coffee + Crumbs, in both their art and their mothering.
It seems that you and the women you work with have a rich vision of what motherhood can be. In your ideal world, how would people understand and experience motherhood?
This is such a powerful question. I wish I could sum this answer up in a few sentences, but I don’t know that I can. For me personally, motherhood is a sort of lens. It shapes the way I view the entire world, the way I view God, the way I view other people, the way I view myself. I suppose in my ideal world, people would understand and experience motherhood this way—as a lens that can sometimes make everything richer, more colorful, more meaningful, more nuanced, more emotional. That is not to say you can’t live a rich, colorful and meaningful life as a non-mom. You absolutely can. But I do think becoming a mother unlocks a part of your heart, your mind, and your perspective in a way that only motherhood can.