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Inter/View: Talks with America's Writing Women

Mickey Pearlman
Katherine Usher Henderson
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Twenty-eight powerful and individual voices are heard as Pearlman and Henderson offer a forum for a generous cross-section of the women writing fiction in America today -- writers whose vital statistics cross the borders of race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual preference, marital status, age, geography, and lifestyle. Each writer is presented in an essay/interview reflecting the dynamic that develops naturally when two vital minds meet to discuss topic of mutually interest. The writers talk about the role of memory, space, and family in their work, about politics, dreams, and race, about their mothers and children and alma maters, about book reviewing and their agents, editors, and publishers, and about each others' work. A bibliography of principal works follows each essay. A valuable contribution to writers both female and male, for above all else, this is a book about writing.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5968-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. 1-8)

    MANY HOURS of careful listening have gone into the creation ofInter/View, a forum for the voices of twenty-eight people who have three labels in common: they are women, Americans, and writers. They represent, too, all of the borders that we have systematically attempted to cross—those of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, marital status, age, “lifestyle,” and geography. Given the generous profusion of women writing in America, it was, of course, impossible to include every writer in every place worth listening and talking to. But we did manage to interview writers who are white, black, Asian, and Native American,...

    (pp. 9-14)

    ALISON LURIE, who won the Pulitzer Prize forForeign Affairsin 1984, lives in a dark-red clapboard house on one of the many tree-shaded streets of Ithaca, New York, home of Cornell University, where she is a professor of English. Somehow one expects America’s most famous social satirist of the fictional intelligentsia, who has a house in Key West and a flat in London, to be surrounded by Chippendale chairs and Waterford glass. Instead, the Alison Lurie I met has giant pots of geraniums and healthy trailing plants in every window, a collection of baskets hanging on the garage wall,...

  6. AMY TAN
    (pp. 15-22)

    AMY TAN lives with her husband, Lou DeMattei, and a Siamese cat named Sagwa in the bottom duplex of a post-Victorian row house on Sacramento Street in San Francisco. She and her husband, who is a tax attorney, own the building with the couple who live in the top unit. When I arrived she was baking cookies for our interview and for her writing group, which was meeting there that evening. We sat drinking tea in the comfortable living room surrounded by tangible artifacts of Tan’s Chinese heritage, including photographs of her mother (like Tan, very beautiful) and grandmother. Tan...

    (pp. 23-29)

    GLORIA NAYLOR, who always has “to have a little bit of sky,” lives in a sunny cooperative apartment in upper Manhattan whose living room windows face the Hudson River. She works at an oak rolltop desk (the one that most writers lust after), but only a foot or two away is the inevitable computer, and the boxes of continuous white paper are piled up nearby. The plumbers were there the day I arrived (Is it comforting to know that pipes break even at Gloria Naylor’s?), but we settled in to talk despite the bangs and the clanking.

    Naylor is a...

    (pp. 30-39)

    TO REACH Gail Godwin’s home in Woodstock, New York, I drove along narrow roads that wind and dip across streams and through tangled woods. Her home itself is the essence of elegant simplicity, a new but traditionally designed Canadian cedar house on top of a steep hill, its interior full of light and space. One room on the first floor is built around a rectangular pool where Godwin swims daily. We stopped in the kitchen, and while Godwin made tea I admired the spacious living room with picture window and cathedral ceiling. Two imperious blue-eyed Siamese cats named Felix and...

    (pp. 40-48)

    EVEN AN experienced interviewer looks forward to meeting Joyce Carol Oates for the first time with nervous excitement and trepidation; there is, after all, a halo of brilliance around Oates. No one on the current literary scene, male or female, so dramatically and consistently epitomizes excellence in such profusion, or writes, seemingly with ease, novels, poetry, short stories, essays, plays, reviews, and screenplays at such a formidable, somewhat intimidating, rate. At fifty-one, Oates, the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Princeton, is the author of twenty novels, several plays, five collections of essays, eleven collections of short...

    (pp. 49-57)

    DIANE JOHNSON’s house in the North Beach section of San Francisco is small but perfectly proportioned, with breathtaking views of city, harbor, Angel and Alcatrez islands, and the Golden Gate and San Raphael bridges from the wrap-around window in the living room. When I visited just after New Year’s Day, boxes of Christmas ornaments sat on every table and chair. She explained, “I heard the garbage man coming this morning, so I flung everything off the tree and rushed it out. We’re going skiing tonight, so I had to get it out.”

    Johnson’s skiing partner is her husband, John Frederic...

    (pp. 58-64)

    TO INTERVIEW Susan Fromberg Schaeffer in her black and white house three blocks from Brooklyn College is to enter an enchanting world filled with dollhouses, pink, green, and ruby Depression glass, angels, green velvet sofas, stained glass church windows, overstuffed bookcases, and polished, treasured Victoriana of all kinds. All of this is background for an extraordinarily intelligent critic and writer (she wrote the first Ph.D. dissertation on Vladimir Nabokov at the University of Chicago), dressed in chartreuse leather boots, nine silver rings, and turquoise earrings that match her billowing artist’s smock. She is protected by Sam, surely the smartest (and...

    (pp. 65-72)

    MARGE PIERCY lives in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, a town of winding streets, summer flowers, and tangled woods, bordered on the east by the National Seashore and the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by Cape Cod Bay. She lives with her husband, the writer Ira Wood, and four lively cats named Dinah, Oboe, Colette, and Jim Beam in a traditional-style house on a wooded promontory separated from the town by a marsh. We conducted our interview at a table on the closed-in porch of her very lived-in house; Piercy sat at the head of the table, radiating the energy and intelligence...

    (pp. 73-78)

    SØREN KIERKEGAARD, the Danish existentialist, said that it was his task to create difficulties everywhere. Since I am absolutely sure that he died in 1955, I can only assume that his spirit was mightily at work in New York City on the scheduled interview day with Carole Maso at her apartment in Greenwich Village. The customary drive from northern New Jersey took an hour (instead of the usual twenty minutes), the West Side highway and Riverside Drive (which run parallel to each other) were, even more than usual, crammed with hostile, kamikaze drivers. All the steets around the Museum of...

  14. M.F.K. FISHER
    (pp. 79-87)

    ON THE ROUTE from San Francisco to the ranch in Sonoma County where Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher lives, a thin November sun revealed soft purple hills and small vineyards, their stakes entwined with leaves of deep red or pale green. Fisher’s home, located just beneath the main house of the Bouverie ranch, is approached by climbing a gentle slope through California brush and bits of volcanic rock from the eruption of Mount St. Helena. My knock was answered by a handsome young man with a shock of dark hair who introduced himself as Chris, “the grandson,” and took me to...

    (pp. 88-94)

    DISCUSSIONS AMONG feminists about “having it all” are predictably passé and increasingly take place among women who have not tried to balance work, family, money problems, publishers, vacuuming, laundry, correspondence, writing conferences, eating, and carpools without going crazy. But if thereisone candidate among short story writers and critics who are women who can be said to actually “have it all,” my nomination would be Francine Prose: Harvard University (summa cum laude), author ofHousehold Saints, Bigfoot Dreams, andWomen and Children First, wife of “a genius cook … the Mozart of cooking,” mother of Leon and Bruno, daughter...

    (pp. 95-102)

    THE CAB driver’s monologue assured me that I was in Southern California. While driving me to Alice McDermott’s home in La Jolla, he described in friendly and elegant detail his vast collection of movie star memorabilia. McDermott herself, when I met her, clearly did not belong to the celebrity-conscious set residing in this sunny coastal suburb of San Diego. In fact, she and her family were preparing to move to Bethesda, Maryland, where her scientist husband will teach at Georgetown University. McDermott, who grew up in Elmont, Long Island, has freckles and an easy Irish laugh; more important, she has...

    (pp. 103-110)

    “I HATE leaving home,” said Rosellen Brown. “I have a good time dropping into people’s lives, but when I go away I can’t wait to come home again. So I never add another stop along the way. I’m so rooted that when I did a self-portrait [for Burt Britton’sSelf-Portrait: Book People Picture Themselves] my head was planted in a flower pot that was hanging in a window. My artistic nature is not freewheeling,” she said with a hearty laugh. “It’s sort of, ‘sit down every day and work.’” This sounds like the kind of conversation you’d have while sitting...

    (pp. 111-119)

    CAROLYN SEE’s house in Topanga Canyon north of Los Angeles is surrounded on three sides by canyons deep and wide enough to contain whole forests and whole sunsets. In her novelGolden Daysshe described her first visit to the site: “The house sat out on a wide raw crescent of cut and fill. That half moon of dirt hung, just hung there in the air, over another one of those astonishing cliffs above nowhere. Across the chasm … were stones the size of skyscrapers. Due east, a wilderness of bougainvillea and eucalyptus, sage, rosemary, mint, and a couple of...

    (pp. 120-124)

    AS I APPROACHED her apartment in a Chelsea townhouse, an energetic take-charge woman with a huge, gray plastic trash bag in her hands looked up and said, “Are you Mickey? I’ve just got to get rid of the garbage. Come on in.” So began my interview with Laurie Colwin, author ofHome Cooking, subtitledA Writer in the Kitchen, part memoir and part cookbook; the novelFamily Happiness; several collections of short stories; and the much-admiredHappy All the Time, in which Misty Berkowitz, the archetypal New York outsider, the “only Jew at the dining room table,” first appears.


    (pp. 125-131)

    BETWEEN DOWNTOWN Berkeley and the University of California are steeply sloping, tree-lined hills. Joyce Carol Thomas lives on such a hill in a Spanish-style house that she calls her city-country home—city out the front door, country out the back. From her study on the second floor, productively cluttered with computers, books, and manuscripts in progress, she can look west over the San Pablo and San Francisco bays or south over an avocado tree in the garden that figures in her latest novel,Journey. We sat on the couch in her living room, framed by a huge blossoming lemon tree...

    (pp. 132-136)

    SHIRLEY ANN GRAU, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1965 forThe Keepers of the Housecomes from “a loosely structured family of eccentrics if there ever was one” who were “splendid [but] forgot they had children for long periods of time. Everybody was so interested in whatever they were doing they had very little time to organize others. When they remembered us, theywerevery concerned about it. Everybody was expected to go their own way [but] we were not expected todoanything at all. So you either did, or didn’t. In either case, [it was] your problem....

    (pp. 137-142)

    KATE BRAVERMAN, author of two novels and five books of poetry, lives in the Beverly Hills section of Los Angeles for safety and a good school for her seven-year-old daughter Gabrielle. Her heart and work, however, are closer to the Berkeley of the sixties or the Venice Beach section of Los Angeles or the barrio in East Los Angeles. Braverman is taut with energy and intellect, a brilliant woman who writes from a profound, fully articulated aesthetic that encompasses the political, the linguistic, and the personal. During our interview in her large study/bedroom, she was expressive not just with words...

    (pp. 143-148)

    MY INTERVIEW with Louise Erdrich took place while she was trying to hold onto her “wonderful, healthy”activeeight-month-old baby (ten and a half pounds at birth!) in Cornish, New Hampshire, and I was trying, in New Jersey, to hold onto my $1.99 rubber dart-gun gadget from Radio Shack that allows you to both tape and talk to someone on the telephone.

    The baby, Aza Mirion, is the third child of Erdrich and Michael Dorris, author of the much acclaimed nonfiction book on fetal alcohol syndromeThe Broken Cord(1989), and ofA Yellow Raft in Blue Water(1987). They...

    (pp. 149-156)

    ANNE LAMOTT lives on the ground floor of a large house built on the side of a wooded canyon in Mill Valley, California, a small town just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. The top of the house is level with the road, and hundreds of stone steps descend to her apartment. Lamott herself is small, spunky, funny, completely candid and (at the time of our interview) pregnant. At thirty-five, she is the author of four well reviewed novels, most recentlyAll New People, set in Tiburon in the sixties, when that now-elegant suburb was a small railroad...

    (pp. 157-162)

    JOSEPHINE HUMPHREYS, who says she is “a social recluse,” was educated at Duke and at Yale, and lives quietly in Charleston, South Carolina. She arrived in New York on one of those snowy weekends when the winter-weary inhabitants are energized by some event of fleeting celebrity or instant social significance to leave their insulated apartments for the sleety streets. This time it was the Andy Warhol exhibit, then playing to full houses of art groupies and other enthusiasts of popular culture, and the lines at the Museum of Modern Art were long, long, long. (The day before, Humphreys was on...

    (pp. 163-169)

    HARRIET DOERR lives in Pasadena, California, the city just outside Los Angeles where she was born in 1910. Pasadena is not a product of Southern California’s recent expansion, but a place of quiet streets lined with huge trees where the homes and the families go back a long way by California standards, to early in the nineteenth century. As we stood on the porch of her hillside house, looking down over terraces of lemon trees to her rose garden or up to the San Gabriel mountains in the middle distance, she said, “People say it’s silly to live alone in...

    (pp. 170-176)

    ELIZABETH WINTHROP lives on Riverside Drive, that quintessential New York space, tree-laden and pigeon-marked, profuse with the bodies of joggers, dogwalkers, playground parents, Walkman wearers, and retired professors from Barnard, Columbia, and City College out for a stroll. The park across from her windows is posted with the usual New York signs—“No Parking,” “No Littering,” “No Radios,” “No Ball Playing”—to which nobody who calls him or herself a New Yorker pays any attention—but, in addition to the city-produced list of restrictions, it has temporary neighborhood fliers flapping from the fences that read: “Call police if you see...

    (pp. 177-183)

    JANET LEWIS has written five novels, five books of poetry, five libretti, and many beautifully crafted short stories. Living in Northern California, where her work is widely read, I wanted to interview her but felt that perhaps at age eighty-nine (now ninety) she was entitled to peace and quiet. However, when friends reported to me that they had met her at a large wedding in Los Angeles, I sent her a letter the next day. She called me immediately and we set a date.

    At age ninety Janet Lewis reads avidly, goes to the opera, and still writes—most recently,...

    (pp. 184-189)

    “THE FLOOR vibrates” in Irini Spanidou’s fifth-floor apartment “between the Korean greengrocer and Bartley’s Bar” in New York’s Greenwich Village when she is trying to write, because “the guys who live downstairs work in a disco and play their music very loud.” They have, she said, “very fancy equipment…. I am able to write with this and [with] people having quarrels. The only kind of noise that bothers me is television, for some reason. It’s a harsher noise with continued interruption; it’s too much to tune out.” But as for the wailing ambulance sirens, the raucous New York University students,...

    (pp. 190-194)

    “FOR TWENTY-FIVE years I have been unlearning what I learned in my first twenty-five years,” said Lynne Sharon Schwartz, the author ofLeaving Brooklyn, which “of all my books … uses memory the most.” For “twenty-five years I was filled with everything that was Brooklyn—in the 1950s”—mores, folkways, and point of view. “But I thought, ‘No, this is not going to be my life’ and I’ve spent all this time undoing, unraveling. It hasn’t been so much learning new things but unlearning, and this book was my apotheosis of that.”

    The novel uses “the image of peeling the...

    (pp. 195-199)

    MONA SIMPSON, who wroteAnywhere But Here[1987), talked to me about her work in her apartment on the west side of Manhattan, which ‬“looks life a flat in Berkeley or Palo Alto or Red Bluff or anywhere.” On the white-painted radiator cover there’s a stone mortar and pestle and two ripening red and green chili peppers, which Simpson says she uses for guacamole. Her novel is about Adele August, “a complex, ambitious woman in all the worst and most endearing aspects,” and her twelve-year-old daughter, Ann Hatfield August. It opens with these lines:

    We fought. When my mother and...

    (pp. 200-207)

    NANCY WILLARD and I became friends several years ago in an unlikely place. We found ourselves, late on a Sunday night, precariously perched on adjoining mountains of luggage in the middle of a New York airport teeming with drunken students returning from spring break. We had been “bumped” off the early flight from Houston, where Willard, along with Stephen Donaldson and Brian Aldiss, had been a featured speaker at the “Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts,” and we were both waiting for those people who were supposed to be waiting for us.

    No more alien environment can be imagined...

  33. INDEX
    (pp. 208-218)