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Michael WoodOf course, there are plenty of particular things for writers to be, apart from profesionally gendered or just writers, and the Paris Review volume is full of fine details.
—London Review of Books
For More Than Forty Years, the acclaimed Paris Review interviews have been collected in the Writers at Work series. The Modern Library relaunches the series with the first of its specialized collections — interviews with sixteen women novelists, poets, and playwrights, all offering rich commentary on the art of writing and on the opportunities ...
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For More Than Forty Years, the acclaimed Paris Review interviews have been collected in the Writers at Work series. The Modern Library relaunches the series with the first of its specialized collections — interviews with sixteen women novelists, poets, and playwrights, all offering rich commentary on the art of writing and on the opportunities and challenges a woman writer faces in contemporary society.
"Aspiring writers should read the entire canon of literature that precedes them, back to the Greeks, up to the current issue of The Paris Review."-- William Kennedy
"It is a safe bet that thirty and even three hundred years from now these conversations will be invaluable to students of twentieth-century literature."-- Time
INTERVIEWER: What do you think of women writers, or do you think the category "woman writer"should not be made?
MCCARTHY: Some women writers make it. I mean, there's a certain kind woman writer who's a capital W, capital W. Virginia Woolf certainly was one, and Katherine Mansfield was one, and Elizabeth Bowen is one. Katherine Anne Porter? Don't think she really is-I mean, her writing is certainly very feminine, but I would say that there wasn't this "WW" business in Katherine Anne Porter. Who else? There's Eudora Welty, who's certainly not a "Woman Writer," though she's become one lately.
INTERVIEWER: What is it that happens to make this change?
MCCARTHY: I think they become interested in decor. You notice the change in Elizabeth Bowen. Her early work is much more masculine. Her later work has much more drapery in it.... I was going to write a piece at some point about this called "Sense and Sensibility," dividing women writers into these two. I am for the ones who represent sense....
There is, still, a sort of trained-dog fascination with the idea of women writers-not that the thing is done well, but that it is done at all, by a creature that is not supposed to possess such capabilities. And so a biographer may well focus on the woman, on gossip and sexual detail and domestic arrangements and political involvement, to the exclusion of the artist. However, what these writers have in common is not their diverse responses to the category "woman writer," but their shared passion toward the category "writer."
This is true as well when that other "special" category, race, is tacked on. Neither the white women writers nor the blackwomen writers in this book feel that they have to deny anything about themselves to gain entry into the category of writer; but none of them feel, either, that their other attributes should be allowed to obscure what it is they are focused on, what it is they have been called to do. For them, writing is not an offshoot; it is the one thing that includes all the other aspects of their lives. Thus Maya Angelou:
When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we're capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I'm trying for that. But I'm also trying for the language. I'm trying to see how it can really sound. I really love language. I love it for what it does for us, how it allows us to explain the pain and the glory, the nuances and the delicacies of our existence. And then it allows us to laugh, allows us to show wit. Real wit is shown in language. We need language.
Reading through these interviews, I was struck again by the intensity of the writers' dedication: their commitment to craft, the informed admiration for the work of other writers from whom they have learned, the insistence on the importance of what has been done, and what can be done, through the art itself. Thus Toni Morrison:
It is not possible for me to be unaware of the incredible violence, the willful ignorance, the hunger for other people's pain.... What makes me feel I belong here, out in this world, is not the teacher, not the mother, not the lover but what goes on in my mind when I am writing. Then I belong here, and then all of the things that are disparate and irreconcilable can be useful. I can do the traditional things that writers always say they do, which is to make order out of chaos....
In no other art is the relationship of creation to creator so complex and personal and thus so potentially damaging to self-esteem: if you fail, you fail alone. The dancer realizes someone else's dance, the writer her own. The relationship of any writer toward a vocation so exacting in its specificity, so demanding of love and energy and time, so resistant to all efforts to define its essence or to categorize its best effects, is bound to be an edgy one, and in these conversations the edginess shows through. Some disclaim ego, remarkable in a collection of such strong, assertive, individual voices; others keep secrets; others fence with their considerable intelligence; others have recourse to mysticism; others protect themselves with wit. It would be a brave person who would try to stuff these wonderful and various talents into one tidy box labeled "WW," and accept that designation to be definitive. Despite the title of this book, the label should probably read, "WWAAW," Writers Who Are Also Women.
To write is a solitary and singular act; to do it superbly, as all of these writers have done, is a blessing. Despite everything that gets said about the suffering and panic and horror of being a writer, the final impression left by these remarkable voices is one of thankfulness, of humility in the face of what has been given. From Joyce Carol Oates, one of the youngest writers in this group:
I take seriously Flaubert's statement that we must love one another in our art as the mystics love one another in God. By honoring one another's creation we honor something that deeply connects us all, and goes beyond us.
And from Dorothy Parker, one of the oldest:
I want so much to write well, though I know I don't.... But during and at the end of my life, I will adore those who have.