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Meet the WritersImage of Mary Gordon
Mary Gordon
Mary Gordon is the author of the novels Spending, The Company of Women, and The Rest of Life, as well as the memoir The Shadow Man. She has received a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the 1997 O. Henry Award for best short story. She teaches at Barnard College and lives in New York City.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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Good to Know
Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Gordon:

"I don't have any great first job tales: I‘ve never worked on a tramp steamer or in a coal mine or anything like that. I think the inspiration for my writing came largely from my father and the joy that life in books represented to me."

"I love dancing; I adore salsa dancing and wish I could be in a Broadway chorus."

"I could not write without my dog, Rhoda, a Lab-chow mix."

"I would trade any writerly success if it would mean my children would be happy."

"I hate George Bush, John Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, and Cheney. I hate bullies. I hate people who say, ‘It's so fun,' and say, 'literally,' when they mean, ‘figuratively.' "

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In the fall of 2004, Mary Gordon took some time to tell us about some of her favorite books, authors, and interests.

What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. When I read it, I thought of myself as a poet. It made me aware that I could write prose that had the lyric power of poetry, and that I could explore the inner life of a woman with a depth and expansiveness I had never imagined.

What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?

  • The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford -- I love it for its moral complexity, its ability to sustain a tragic vision, its peerless formal structure.

  • Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos -- Because he explores goodness with great lyric power.

  • A La Recherche du Temps Perdu by Proust -- Because it is not like reading another book, it's like having another life.

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen -- Because it is bliss and makes you forget everything bad that's plaguing you.

  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf -- For the beauty of the prose.

  • Middlemarch -- Because, as Virginia Woolf says, it's a book for grown-ups.

  • The Dubliners by James Joyce -- Because of the power of the moments, the sensual potency leading to metaphysical vision.

  • The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter -- For her rigor and richness.

  • The Collected Poems of W. H. Auden -- Because of his wisdom and his verbal agility.

  • The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rilke, because of his peerless attention to the inner life as made clear by observation of the outer world.

    What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?

  • Nights of Cabiria -- Because of Giulietta Messina's ability to be tragic and comic in equal measure.

  • Roman Holiday -- Because I want the world to be like that and I want to ride on a Vespa through Rome with Gregory Peck.

  • The Gospel According to St. Matthew by Pasolini -- Because it's fiery and spiritual at the same time.

  • The Philadelphia Story -- For sheer style.

  • Babette's Feast -- Because it makes visible my belief in everything that's important in the world.

  • The Producers -- Because it makes me forget what's ailing me.

  • Sunday, Bloody Sunday -- Because it's about how hard it is to be a sexual, adult woman. And because it points to different kinds of love.

    What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?St. Matthew Passion and Fauré's Requiem. For fun, I love Motown and the Beach Boys.

    If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
    Chekhov's stories, because of their quiet beauty and wisdom.

    What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
    Books of poetry.

    Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
    I have so many: on my desk, or beside it, or above it, are pictures of writers I want near me: Ford Madox Ford, Colette, Anna Akhmatova, Katherine Anne Porter, Marina Tsvetayeva, Jean Stafford. I am fetishistic about my fountain pen -- a black Waterman's -- and my notebooks are gleaned from my travels: I need bound, lined notebooks and it pleases me to remember a happy place where I bought them.

    What are you working on now?
    A book about my mother, called Circling My Mother; a new novel, called Reparation.

    Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
    Answering this would mean a more thorough understanding of "where I am today," than I have. I have been writing all my life; that is to say, I have no memory of a non-writing self. My father was a writer, though not a successful one, and writing was what we did together. It was also the only thing I was good at as a child. I thought of myself as a poet until I was 24. Then I wrote some stories, one of which was published by Alice Walker when she was an editor at Ms. When I was in England, lonely and unhappily married, I wrote to Margaret Drabble, who kindly took me under her wing and introduced me to her agent. It was through him, Peter Matson, that my career took off.

    If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
    Maxine Swann. Her book Serious Girls is dreamy and mysterious and poetic and rich.

    What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
    Be persevering.

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  • About the Writer
    *Mary Gordon Home
    * Biography
    * Good to Know
    * Interview
    In Our Other Stores
    * Signed, First Editions by Mary Gordon
    *Final Payments, 1978
    *The Company of Women, 1981
    *Men and Angels, 1985
    *Temporary Shelter, 1987
    *The Other Side, 1989
    *Good Boys and Dead Girls, 1991
    *The Rest of Life: Three Novellas, 1993
    *Shadow Man: A Daughter's Search for Her Father, 1996
    *Spending, 1998
    *Seeing Through Places, 2000
    *Joan of Arc, 2000
    *Pearl, 2005
    *Stories of Mary Gordon, 2006
    *Circling My Mother: A Memoir, 2007
    Photo by Emma Dodge Hanson