The Future Generation Now! An Interview with (the Amazing) China Martens


About 7 years ago I met China Martens at a conference on motherhood. She was discussing what it had been like making her cutting edge Zine The Future Generation. I was a mother of two young children and it felt great to be around other mothers who wrote about the beauty, pain, and complexity of being mothers. After her talk, China and I traded publications. I took her book home and immediately got lost–and found– within its pages. So many of the struggles I had not spoken aloud about motherhood were articulated in The Future Generation. I immediately asked China if we could do an interview and she agreed. But life. Gorgeous, winding, bizarre life got in the way of me editing and sharing China’s wisdom but I always knew I would. All these years later, China is raising funds to get a second edition of The Future Generation printed. It’s a beautiful book and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Check out what China has to say about publishing, mothering, building community and vulnerability and please support her campaign to raise funds to get this new book published.  

Me: I am deeply inspired by The Future Generation. I remember feeling seen, held and affirmed when I read the anthology. I felt like I had a sister in all the complex things I was feeling as a new mother. What made you start The Future Generation?

China Martens: I started The Future Generation because I was looking for others to share these experiences with. I was in new territory and I wanted to learn and share with others, to talk about our lives, our ideas and our ideals of creating better things.

I had a background of radical activity (anti-imperialism, anti-oppression, art, philosophy and DIY attitude)  but I didn’t see the same resources available once I became a mother. So I tried to carry over those same principles of self-determination, non-hierarchical organizing and opposition to State “business as usual” that I had experienced before motherhood—in the mid-eighties– and expand them into the life changes I was experiencing. To me, parenthood seemed like a perfect place to examine and put into practice our anarchist/punk rock/bohemian/however-you-define-yourself and social justice values. And community support for children and caregivers (seemed like it would be a given is these spaces). I was surprised there was so much hostility/exclusion/old-fashioned authoritarian and emotionally triggered opinions towards children and parenting, in the so-called radical scene. The resistance against progressive values for youth and mothers showed me that this was indeed the place that I needed to work from. I didn’t see the kind of zine that I needed so I made it. That’s something that many of us were doing back then, creating the alternatives that we needed. However it was unusual, at the time, to be a zinester who was also a mother.

Me: Did you ever feel scared or vulnerable sharing your experience of motherhood back then?

China Martens: I feel scared and vulnerable sharing my experience of motherhood now! Its funny but I don’t remember so much, if I felt scared or vulnerable sharing my experiences of motherhood back then. It was a long time ago—I started TFG when my daughter was 2 and now she is 28. Sometimes it seems to me, I was braver when I was a younger mother – still fired up with all the radical reading, activity, and people in my life.

What I remember more was the difficulty of getting time to write and the difficulty AND the struggle of mothering itself! The writing was a relief. At least in my rosy looking backward glasses. I have a distinct memory of a roommate telling me once, “you should write the story of how hard it is to write, how guilty you feel” after watching me one weekend go through an episode of my mother driving from a few hours away to pick up my daughter, so I could have the weekend to myself to write. I needed time to myself and that was always difficult to get.


Me: What has been the most important thing you have gained through sharing your experiences mothering?

China Martens: I gained a network of writers, feedback, support: good for mothering and good for a writer. To find out I am not alone. To get support in which to create myself as a writer, really. Before I was a mother, before the age of 21, I was always wanting to do stuff like create a chapbook of my poetry or write a story but was too lazy to finish the things I had started. I couldn’t get myself out of mothering however, so I had to do it. The writing seemed to be important to more than just myself. It was ground that needed to be broken. Maybe it verges on activism. I don’t think of myself as an activist but I do activist type activities based around my personal experience and my knowledge that parents and children need more community support. And it seems that I have stuck with it, have developed this, over the years.

Motherhood is an experience that keeps building. It doesn’t seem you are doing anything sometimes, but you are, you are always important in everything you do. Connecting. Changing. Sharing these experiences I am part of the circle of life – corny as that sounds – or of a movement of radical resistance.


Me: What sorts of things have you learned about yourself, your community, and the world through your relationship with Clover?

China Martens: Everything I do in my work these days is based from my experiences as a mother and my relationship with my daughter and society in those early days. I now have the time now to develop some projects to give back in a way that I found too difficult, and not even desirable to me to do, while I was in the trenches.


I have been a mother for over half my lifetime. A little more than half of everything I know, is also what I have learned while being a mother. I guess one thing my heart learned is how to be open to others, as my child grew, I saw her reflected in others her age around me, and as she became an adult she melted into this pool of humanity who are all, some mother’s child. I have also learned humility–I’ve seen the issues to work on, in myself and in my community –and it has  kept things lively. Not static. Ever changing. To force me out of my own self-absorption or even limitations. To learn how to stick with something, to stick around, to be present even when it’s difficult and to see the truth that change is life. I’ve learned some times to speak up and even better times to keep my mouth closed. Watching life change over time is wonderful the more time that goes by.

Me: Please say anything that comes to mind and heart about mothering with limited financial resources in this country.

China Martens: It’s hard to talk about. It’s painful. There has also been a lot of talk on poverty and its intersection with other oppressions like racism that is just that, talk as well as studies, too many studies. For example, how so many privileged people make money studying issues while the people living them are not given the same opportunities. I do not think this is right.

I have written about mothering with limited financial resources in this country. I didn’t always identify the particular divisions between different groups of people as consciously as I do now, nor did I understand as clearly – to see myself as poor, or realize the differences between myself and partnered parents (when I judged myself as lacking when I compared myself to other hip mamas who were not single mothers) – I didn’t always articulate that in my writing specifically, but looking back, my writing is coming from a specific place which is not always universal. For instance – putting a full-page picture of my empty refrigerator in my zine and writing about experiences with welfare, and putting a picture of myself with the slogan “welfare lovers make better lovers” on the cover during welfare reform. That’s a pretty clear message. But what is less clear is when I am writing about my experiences, for example, with being a rad parent raising a teenager – that this is also different than other alternative parents whose are also having issues with raising teenagers but coming from a partnered and economically secure bohemiam/alternative values family unit.  I think in that situation you are safer to be different. And the child of radical single mom also has issues of economics they are dealing with. We have these differences of experiences that are not equally highlighted – which can just fall under a broader title that then doesn’t tell the whole truth. When mainstream media picked up on “radical motherhood” writing in the last decade, it was often the white middle class partnered mother’s writing that was featured.

These days I spend a lot of energy at the forefront of my mind, examining these critical differences between different groups of mothers. Now that I am an empty nest mother I feel I have more time to reflect and also to organize. My identity as a single mother and a low income mother is important, although not always easy to define as class can be complicated and lines can get blurry. But everything I write comes from this perspective. I don’t always see myself from the outside, to understand that. This is the same reason I have worked on examining my white privilege in motherhood and have tried to use that examination in my work as an editor and in my development as a writer. These are the struggles which need to be centered, the many mothers who mother under conditions of classism, racism, xenophobia, able-ism, and more.

Me: What makes this a good time to reprint The Future Generation? Why should folks get their hands on the second edition of this book?

China Martens: In the decade since the book first came out, I have worked on co-creating two other anthologies: Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind, with Vikki Law and Revolutionary Mothering, with Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Mai’a Williams. I worked to create platforms to discuss community support for caregivers and children in social justice communities.  Much of that work focused on mothers of color and marginalized mothers voices. The focus became sharper, clearer, working with others. I’m really proud of the last two books that have come out with much bigger print runs then The Future Generation.

But this book, The Future Generation, returns to my own voice, as an active parent. The book has been out of print for some time and it needs to exist in the world again for another generation. All of us have been children and all of us create the future, in one way, or another. I know the ramifications of this book having a second chance, the feedback from the first run was powerful and community was built through that. We’re going to need to be gathering in the days ahead.



After birthing twins
my friend whittled
herself back to hourglass.
She describes the black sand,
her turquoise bikini, pride,
seeing herself strut again.

I will never wear one again,
I say. Then show.
The pot, the loose skin,
the lightning bolts, the rain
streaks across my belly.

I wear the turbulent body
of a stranger. Sharp,
soft until the hill
of broken muscle
announcing life
beyond my life.

I thank my bones,
my broken muscles,
I thank the woman I was,
and the woman I am.

Slowly, I learn
to strut again.


My gratitude goes to the fantastic poets at Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon who first published this piece on their blog last year.

For more of my writing from the frontlines of womanhood read my first collection of poetry Karma’s Footsteps or download my free booklet Mother Nature.

Dear Rekia:

It is April 1, 2012. I am supposed to write a poem. I can’t find poetry right now.

Poetry can’t find me either. I see your face and it is the face of every brown girl I’ve ever known and been. That smile so like a hug, ready to embrace a world you had yet to see. Ready for your welcome. Ready for those first tentative steps into baby woman.

Rekia. Your name is the poem. Your breath was the poem. And the dances you will never do, the laughter you won’t feel tickling your belly, the arguments you won’t have with your brothers, the first love–everything that was stolen–all that beauty and obstacle and all those victories your family will never cheer, those make up the poem too.

Understand. I can’t fit this pain into stanza or verse. Baby, you could have been me, my niece, sister, best friend, cousin, daughter

and the line breaks here, Rekia

here the line
falls down our cheeks


How our hopes

keep being




This is a petition started by Rekia Boyd’s brother:

Please sign and share. I am calling on my circle of mothers to help stop these injustices. I did not think that The Sage Mama was going to become a space for (outright) activism, but the times necessitate it.These are difficult times, Mamas. We have to pull together.

Our Son

A knot in my neck. Tears threatening to spill over the rims of my eyes while I prepare dinner. My two girls giggling in the adjacent room. Me, wondering what empty takes over when you know you’ll never hear your child laugh again. I am afraid I will unravel like a giant ball of string. Become a trail of of pain, disappointment,anger.

Yes. “If I had a son he would look Trayvon Martin” too.

When I was pregnant and did not know the sex of my child, I looked my fears in the face. My fears wore the face of a system that has never put me–or women who look like me–anywhere on its priority list.I live on the front lines of that battle daily and feel semi-adept at mapping out strategies for myself. That is what my poetry is for: defusing the landmine of silence that blows so many of our woman voices out of our throats. I can share my experiences with my daughters. Arm them to the teeth with self-love, courage, knowledge of their histories, love for Mother Earth. community and truth. And I was still scared. The idea of raising a Black boy in what Audre Lorde refered to as “the mouth of this dragon called america” frightened me enough that I considered never returning to the United States if I had a son. Of course the question remained: where would I go? What safe place could I go and raise a Black boy into a man without him falling victim to the low expectations set out for him? Where could I have him not be looked at as a target? Where could I raise him to be whole? I never did answer those questions in a way that satisfied me. I did not have to.

And now this.

I don’t have anything articulate to say about this murder. Just that if you are here, you are probably a mother too. Maybe you have already have put yourself in the shoes of Trayvon Martin’s mother and imagined your 17 year old going to the store and never coming back simply because someone out there believed that he did not have the right to walk through a certain neighborhood.And if you have tried to put yourself in the shoes of Trayvon Martin’s mother and imagined life without the sound of your child’s laughter, laments, dreams, ideas, then you have probably signed one of the petitions going around demanding that at the VERY least–Trayvon Martin’s killer be arrested. If you have not realized that Trayvon is your son too, then I am asking you to realize it now. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder and demand that people be held accountable for this horrible crime. We need to stand hand in hand and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.

Please Sign The Petition Here.


Happy 2012, Mamas. Much light to you and many thanks to you for your heartfelt responses to this space.

I see you, Mama.
An ocean of people rushing past
you stand at the bottom
of the grey subway stairs
double-stroller in arms
figuring your

I see you
at the library
at the free music classes
at the grocery store
on the bus
pointing out dandelions
and pine trees
explaining that it’s not
alright to throw trash
in the street

Your sleep, broken
your spirit held together
by ancestors you will never
be able to name.
There is no nanny
no babysitter
no family standing at the ready
so that you can breathe

And sometimes
the river in you rises
you bite back curses
blink away tears
the child screams fire,
water of you starts to simmer and rise
then you find your breath
you lower your voice
you lower your hand
remembering that you want
to do this differently

Traveling an hour
for the girls’ rice milk
and organic berries.
Ice cream trucks blaring
candied kids carousing
teenagers rushing
adults venting
you are swimming against the tide
and the ache in your arms reminds you
you are the natural rhythm of water
the ache in your arms
is the start of muscle

I see you, Mama
in the street
on the bus
at the park
in the mirror
I see you
double-stroller in your arms

(This piece was first published in February 2009 by the visionary folks at

For more of my writing from the frontlines of womanhood read my first collection of poetry Karma’s Footsteps or download my free booklet Mother Nature.

Rebirth: What We Don’t Say

This story does not have an ending, I am unfolding as a mother, as a writer, as a friend, as a wife, as a daughter and as an individual every moment.

There are things that no woman tells another about motherhood. I will tell you this: I died. It was not childbirth. My labors were long and hard and beautiful. I have given birth twice: once to a screaming soul who shattered my idealistic visions of motherhood, the second time to an infant so ancient she didn’t utter a sound as she was lifted by the midwife from the water of the birthing tub, she just started at us. Both times my heart was cracked—shattered really and there would be no repairing it. The love that stretched and tore and suckled and broke my sleep was one so profound that nothing could have prepared me for it.

The yellow from the canvas of day bled all over the black watercolor of night and time became nothing. There was a rhythm of waking of feeding and sleeping. Of changing diapers and cuddling and eating again of sleeping again and I was lost in the curves of my children’s wrists and in the folds of their necks and the freshly baked bread smell of a new baby and the fragile, startling cries that made me gasp inaudibly and sent my heart flitting in my chest like a desperate butterfly.

Motherhood was all consuming.

There was nothing I wouldn’t learn, nothing I wouldn’t do to make the journey of my children from the realm of the unknown, the ether, the ancestors, to the harsh world I knew easier. I dove into homeopathy, herbs and aromatherapy to soothe my first born, I carried her wrapped around my back in fabric, I was as close to her as her breath. I eliminated all my favorite spices from my diet lest they upset her belly. I devoured writings on mothering. I was too exhausted to write, but I knew that gift was mine and I knew that in time I would get back to it. This gift, this new life, had come through me and it was time to focus on her. I’d get back to me.

When I did get back to me, I was gone. This is the thing that women don’t tell each other about motherhood. That you will never be who you were. That you will not see anything the way you used to see it, you will never hear language the way you used to hear it, music, color, photos, friends, family, career path–nothing or no one came through my transition from single woman to mother unexamined. Least of all myself.

I remember walking through the Lower East Side of Manhattan with a friend one evening. My husband pushed our first child down the chilled, narrow sidewalks  in a grey stroller while I carried our second baby prominently in my belly, “My whole life had been about me. I was self-centered,” I said to our friend. “Of course,” my friend replied and he urged me not to feel guilty about that. “This is so different. I am not the center of my universe anymore.” It was not guilt I felt. It was as though I was walking between worlds. The old me who roamed the neighborhood we were now in with panther’s grace. The me who wound in and out of bookstores and cafes and had nothing but time and her journal on her hands. The me at poetry readings, featured and popular. The me who would disappear for weeks or months; gone to a retreat in Spain or on an adventure in England, sitting rapt in classrooms as teacher or student. That me with her lovers and dramas and poems and phone calls at 3am. And that other me, the one who barely reached for pen and paper. The me who cooked and did laundry and graded papers and shopped for groceries while pushing a stroller. The me with a husband who worked the night shift. I was on, always, no clocking in or out, always breastfeeding, cleaning, changing diapers, singing the alphabet or something. Old friends with self-absorbed ways didn’t make sense to me anymore. The city I loved seemed coarse and cold (particularly when no one would give me a seat on the subway.) Who was I then? Full of a quietly growing life, pushing a toddler in a stroller, doing yoga to maintain my equilibrium, living in a tense home dealing with disappointment at having to do some much alone despite being in a city of millions, some of whom I had called family, some of whom I had called friend.

I would look in the mirror back then and see a warrior. Glowing skin, quick smile, delicately muscled with tear-stained insides and questions and faith. I did not know that beautiful woman in the mirror. I just knew what she had to do. Knew what she needed to do to help her family get through that day and the next. She was lonely sometimes. I surrendered. Let myself dance invisibly. Let my identity fall through the cracks. Waited for a new self to emerge.

A new self did emerge. This is what women do not tell each other. I want to say it here: You will die when you become a mother and it will hurt and it will be confusing and you will be someone you never imagined and then, you will be reborn. Truthfully, I have never wanted to be the woman I was before I had children. I loved that woman and I loved that life but I don’t want it again. My daughters have made me more daring, more human, more compassionate. Their births have brought me closer to the earth and they have helped me pare my life down to its essentials. Writing, quick prayers, good food, a few close friends, many deep breaths, love, plants, dancing, music, teaching-these are the ingredients of my/this new self. I waited for this new self in the dark, in the bittersweet water of letting go, in the heavy heartbeat of learning to be a mother, against the isolation, I grew and emerged laughing and crying and here I am, sisters and brothers.

Here I am.

(This piece was first published in June 2010 by the fantastic folks at The Mom Egg. Check out their blog, their reading series, and their literary journal.The publisher, Marjorie Tesser, is a gifted and deeply inspiring Mama.)

For more of my writing from the frontlines of womanhood read my first collection of poetry Karma’s Footsteps or download my free booklet Mother Nature.

Mother Nature: A free download for all Mamas

In my first post I want to give something away.

I wrote the booklet “Mother Nature” because I wanted to have an honest dialogue with new and expectant mothers. There are some great books out about childbirth, breastfeeding and babywearing. While I do share my experiences with all of these things in this booklet, I really wanted to get into some of the more uncomfortable things new Mamas face that no one really warns us about.

I wanted to explore some of the major shifts our identities go through when we become mothers. Some of the emotions I experienced as a new mother came as a huge surprise to me. But when I talked openly with other new moms, I discovered that what I was feeling was not unusual. The unusual thing was talking about it. I wrote this booklet to share what I’ve learned during my pregnancies and my 6 years of being a Mama. It’s what I wish someone had sat me down and told me.

Originally I was selling the booklet for $8. That was cool. I had two small print runs and sold all the books. But I imagined this booklet in the hands of many more mothers. So I’ve decided to distribute the online version (pdf) of the booklet for free under a Creative Commons license. Click here to download the online booklet for free. If you want to order a signed copy you can still buy a print booklet here.

If you appreciate the information in this booklet, please share it with your friends or your birthing clients.

I am learning to be as open to receiving as I am to giving so there is a link here to make a donation using Paypal if you have the means and the urge to do so.

I look forward to our dialogue and welcome your feedback and suggestions in the comments section.

What others say about the booklet:

  • “Your book is in my birth bag for re-affirming what I do.” Claudia Booker- President and Founder of Birthing Hands of DC, doula, childbirth educator and breastfeeding counselor.
  • “A nice, quick introduction to several attachment parenting concepts. It covers a lot of ground in its 32 pages and would make a nice gift for a pregnant woman who is interested in exploring ideas beyond What to expect.” Molly Remer, Citizens for Midwifery.