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The Republic of Parenthood

July 7, 2023 @ 9:45 am - 8:00 pm

“I crossed the border into the Republic of Motherhood and found it a queendom, a wild queendom.” Liz Berry, ‘The Republic of Motherhood’.

In the history of Western art and literature parenthood has been viewed as a barrier to creative, intellectual activity. Parental experience can transform the creative practitioner both in terms of their personal identity and their creative practice. This one day symposium explores how parental experience can be an impetus to art and writing, and rearticulated through them. Participants are invited to engage with an exhibition of animation, fine art and photography and attend a series of talks and workshops.

This is a one day symposium and exhibition on parenthood and creativity, to include speakers and facilitators from a range of disciplines including Animation, Fine Art, Creative Writing, Film and Psychology.

There will be an exhibition and you are free to look at this throughout the day.

Themes explored will include: pregnancy, birth, baby loss, breastfeeding, a diversity of parenthood and parental roles, parental mental health, creative practice, writing, fine art, photography, poetry, fiction.

Refreshments will be served at intervals throughout the day.

Events will include:


09:45 am: Registration

10:15 am: – Auditorium

Keynote Conversation: Parenthood, Writing and Making with Dr Carolyn Jess-Cooke and Professor Vanessa Corby

Carolyn Jess-Cooke is a novelist, poet, editor and Reader in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. She convenes the prestigious MLitt Creative Writing and researches ways that creative writing can help with trauma and mental health. Throughout 2013-18 she directed the Writing Motherhood project, which explored the impact of motherhood on women’s writing. She is also the founder and director of the Stay-at-Home! Literary Festival, which is dedicated to providing people with accessible, inclusive, and eco-friendly ways to access literature. carolynjesscooke.com

Vanessa Corby is the Professor Theory, History and Practice of Art at York St John University –

Vanessa trained as a painter in the north-east of England in the early 1990s before undertaking an MA and Ph.D. in the feminist theory, history, and criticism of art at the University of Leeds. Her work on modern and contemporary art argues that the material operations of practice not only structure the viewer’s experience but also present a powerful lens that reveals new insights into the formation and effects of art historical discourse. Consequently, her research has become dedicated to the articulation of the lived, interstitial experiences of class, gender, and ethnicity made manifest in art but hitherto marginalised by Western culture and thought. She has written on the representation of maternity and maternal experience in the work of others; including the cultural representation and lived experience of termination (2007), the creative negotiation of grief following miscarriage (2019), the construction of professional identity for painters and the impact of maternity on studio practice (2021). She has also written a short poem on childbirth experience for inertia, an artist’s book that accompanied the photographic project of the same name by Christina Kolaiti (2021).



1:00 pm – 2:30 pm: Creative Centre Room CC/011

Creative Writing workshop with Professor Abi Curtis and Professor Tom Dobson

Two facilitated workshops using visual and written methods to explore parenthood. No experience necessary.

Abi Curtis is Professor of Creative Writing at York St John University. She has received Society of Authors awards for her two poetry collections, and has been placed in the Fish, Bridport and Alpine short story prizes. Her first novel is Water & Glass (2017). she has collaborated with musicians and artists and, most recently, edited Blood & Cord: Writers on Early Parenthood, (Emma Press 2023) which will launch at the symposium.

Tom Dobson is Professor of Education and is passionate about creative writing and has worked with young people, teachers, parents and careers on a range of creative writing projects. I am currently co-leading a trans-European project, ‘arted’, which provides guides for teachers, parents and carers on using the creative arts with young people.


2:40 pm – 3:20 pm: Creative Centre Critical Listening Room CC/101

Screening of animated film ‘For Isaak’ by Richard Jacobs and Rebecca Wilson Jacobs

Please note this animated film explores the experience of stillbirth. There will be an open and sensitive discussion before and after the film

‘For Isaak’ is an animated short film which explores themes of baby loss and the impact on a family unit. Centred around the events immediately after the stillbirth of their son, the piece explores how a mother, father and sibling try to process loss and celebrate life.

The film is written and directed by Richard Jacobs and Rebecca Wilson Jacobs who lost their son, Isaak in January 2020. This work is an account of their personal experience of baby loss and is made with the intention to speak to those who may share a similar story, and to take the conversation around baby loss to places it may not have previously existed.

Richard is a Royal Television Society-nominated animator/director and lecturer in animation at York St John University. Richard has several animated short film credits and ran a small studio specialising in animated work for the museums and heritage sector. Richard predominantly works in 2D frame by frame animation with an interest in developing 2D/3D hybrid animation pipeline.


4:00 pm – 6:00 pm: Creative Centre Critical Listening Room CC/101

Film Screening: Breastfeeding: Not on the Agenda’ – a documentary film curated by Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi

Dr Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi is the Course Lead and Senior Lecturer in the Law School at York St John University. Her research area is Company Law and Employment Law. Ernestine is currently running two research projects on shared parental leave and zero hours contracts. She has written a number of peer-reviewed journals shared parental leave, zero hours contract, challenges of regulating director’s remuneration and the impact of excessive director’s remuneration on the company and its workers. She worked with the National Breastfeeding Helpline Network to launch the ‘Return to Work’ campaign in November 2019.



6.30 pm – 8:00 pm: Creative Centre Recital Room CC/201

Book Launch Blood & Cord: Writers on Early Parenthood

Join us for the launch of Blood & Cord: Writers on Early Parenthood (Emma Press), a collection of 18 works in poetry, fiction and memoir, on experiences of early parenthood. Readers include Naomi Booth, Jennifer Cooke, Janine Bradbury, Sylvie Simonds, Elizabeth Goodge and Ruth Charnock.

Blood & Cord is a raw exploration of new parenthood. Voicing silenced conversations about loss, grief, and loneliness, as well as the joys and laughter that are part and parcel of becoming a parent, the stories told within offer a refreshingly honest account of life after new life.

‘Becoming a parent can be a kind of un-making of the self. You lose your old life in many ways, both physically and emotionally. From the intensity of birth, to the strange hinterlands of sleepless nights, from the pain of baby loss, to the ferocity of love, to the sensation of having allowed a being into your world who will change it forever.’

This collection is a hand in the dark, offering comfort and solidarity to any new parent.

Edited by Abi Curtis, with prose pieces from Naomi Booth, Jennifer Cooke, Rebecca Goss, Daisy Hildyard, Caleb Klaces and Malcolm Taylor, and poems from Liz Berry, Rachel Bower, Tommy Brad, Janine Bradbury, Ruth Charnock, Abi Curtis, Paige Davis, Gail McConnell, Elizabeth Hogarth, Alex McRae Dimsdale, Sandra Simonds and Sylvie Simonds.

For more details about the book visit the website here.


Events Access & Inclusivity

At York St John University we are committed to making our events as welcoming and inclusive for as many people as possible.

If you are planning to attend one of our events and have specific access requirements, including wheelchair access, then please contact us by e: events@yorksj.ac.uk or t: 01904 876318 and we will make every effort to accommodate you.

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Top Image Credit: Lucy O’Donnell, (2017) Sitting with Uncertainty: Performance at Drawing Matters Symposium, York St. John University

Bottom Image Credit: Richard Jacobs





July 7, 2023
9:45 am - 8:00 pm


York St John University


York St John Creative Centre York St John University Lord Mayor’s Walk York YO31 7EX
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