Jodi Picoult:

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS - AWW

the nov­el­ist talks pol­i­tics, sex­ism and writ­ing

Pop­u­lar nov­el­ist Jodi Picoult is an author who likes to get to grips with is­sues that af­fect our lives. In My Sis­ter’s Keeper she dealt with a teenager with leukaemia, in Per­fect Match, it was child sex­ual abuse, and in The Sto­ry­teller two of the char­ac­ters were a Holo­caust sur­vivor and a for­mer Nazi SS guard.

In fact, when a re­viewer de­scribed The Sto­ry­teller as chick lit, Jodi replied: “I ac­tu­ally break up laugh­ing. Be­cause that is the worst, most de­press­ing chick lit ever.”

“I write women’s fic­tion,” she told Bri­tish news­pa­per The Tele­graph. “And women’s fic­tion doesn’t mean that’s your au­di­ence. Un­for­tu­nately, it means you have lady parts.”

On the phone from her four hectares of wood­land near Hanover, New Hamp­shire, 50-year-old Jodi is spend­ing a few min­utes os­ten­si­bly talk­ing to me about her new book, Small Great Things. But in­stead we spend most of the in­ter­view dis­cussing Don­ald Trump, gun con­trol, sex­ism in pub­lish­ing and racism. “We just do not have enough time to prop­erly

dis­cuss Trump,” she says. “Se­ri­ously, I may end up liv­ing in New Zealand!”

Jodi is a big sup­porter of gun con­trol and says it is very fright­en­ing liv­ing in the United States at the mo­ment. “To be to­tally hon­est, it is not Trump him­self, be­cause he is an in­di­vid­ual. There are in­di­vid­ual, mis­guided, un­e­d­u­cated peo­ple who blurt out things they shouldn’t, you run into peo­ple like that ev­ery sin­gle day. What ter­ri­fies me is that his can­di­dacy has pulled out of the wood­work peo­ple who live in this coun­try on a foun­da­tion of hate and blame, and there are many of them and they are not eas­ily dis­missed.”

Jodi’s new book, Small Great Things, fo­cuses on racism. It fol­lows an African-Amer­i­can nurse who is asked to be re­moved from car­ing for the sick child of white su­prem­a­cists. The nurse then has to make a choice between sav­ing the child and dis­obey­ing the par­ents’ ob­jec­tion to a black woman tend­ing their child.

“This was a book I felt a great need to write on a per­sonal level, to iden­tify what racism is like in my coun­try,” she says. “It’s not just prej­u­dice but a com­bi­na­tion of prej­u­dice and power.”

She says there are tail winds of racism which al­low cer­tain groups to achieve priv­i­leges that we are not aware of.

“So, for me, writ­ing this book was very soul-search­ing and it re­quired me to re-eval­u­ate my­self and my re­la­tion to race, which is some­thing I never re­ally chal­lenged my­self to do.”

She now be­lieves that even if you are not a mi­nor­ity in the US, you are a part of the prob­lem, and says white peo­ple need to “step back and take a very hard look at them­selves and un­der­stand that the priv­i­lege they were given be­cause they were born white means they should ask, ‘What can we do to make changes sys­tem­at­i­cally and in­sti­tu­tion­ally to make the world more eq­ui­table?”

Jodi says it takes her two years to write each book – she has so far writ­ten 23 nov­els and sold 14 mil­lion copies world­wide.

She val­ues her ru­ral home where she and her hus­band Tim van Leer have don­keys, geese and chick­ens. “The more beau­ti­ful it is, the harder it is for me to get any­thing done,” says Jodi. “I’m re­ally lucky to live in a place where peo­ple come to visit all the time, I love that. And in sum­mer and fall it is stun­ning.”

Tim and Jodi have three chil­dren – Sammy, Kyle and Jake – who have all grown up and left home. Daugh­ter Sammy has co-writ­ten two young adult books with her mother.

“We’re emp­tynesters,” Jodi says, “but I’m lucky I mar­ried a guy who is fan­tas­tic, and I am just as in love with him now, if not more than I was 26 years ago. Spend­ing time with him is a de­light and I still don’t get enough of it.”

Tim works main­tain­ing prop­er­ties and does a lot of vol­un­teer work, in­clud­ing be­ing on the board of the lo­cal home­less shel­ter.

“We’re lucky that we have jobs we can play around with so we can go away and visit the kids or have a hol­i­day, which is nice.”

And with ev­ery new book, Jodi sets off for a world­wide two-month tour to pro­mote it. She’s about to leave for an­other tour on Oc­to­ber 8 and will not get home un­til De­cem­ber 6.

“It’s very chal­leng­ing to jug­gle writ­ing and pro­mot­ing, and I do love meet­ing my read­ers, but peo­ple just don’t re­alise how hard that is. Ger­many called a week ago and said, ‘Can you just come to us between the UK and Aus­tralia tour?’ and I had to say, ‘When? In what three-hour time span can I fit you in?’”

The day be­fore we spoke on the phone Jodi was wel­comed onto the ad­vi­sory board of VIDA: Women in Lit­er­ary Arts, which is a re­search-driven or­gan­i­sa­tion that aims to in­crease crit­i­cal at­ten­tion to con­tem­po­rary women’s writ­ing. She is clearly de­lighted.

“This is the nicest cherry on the top of a lovely sun­dae be­cause it’s some­thing I talk about a lot,” she en­thuses. “I’ve been very vo­cal about gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion in pub­lish­ing and about how op­por­tu­ni­ties for fe­male writ­ers are less than those for male writ­ers.”

She says the good thing about VIDA is that they deal with sta­tis­tics and crunch the num­bers to prove that re­view out­lets such as the New York Times Book Re­view use more male re­view­ers than fe­male and re­view fewer books writ­ten by women than by male au­thors.

“Last year they in­tro­duced sta­tis­tics around women of colour, and I can’t even talk about that without feel­ing sick to my stom­ach, be­cause the op­por­tu­ni­ties for women of colour as writ­ers are so mar­ginal they are re­ally non-ex­is­tent, which is an em­bar­rass­ment. But with VIDA we can start to hold peo­ple ac­count­able.

Jodi is about to start on her next book and that morn­ing had taken a walk with her daugh­ter Sammy to dis­cuss it. “I have two ideas, so we walked a cou­ple of miles and talked about which one I should do.”

Will she ever run out of ideas?

“Not likely,” she says. “I have two fil­ing cab­i­nets full of clip­pings and notes which fas­ci­nate me. I don’t write for my read­ers, I write for my­self. I like to ask my­self ques­tions like, ‘What if this hap­pened?’ and the act of strug­gling to find an an­swer is, for me, the act of writ­ing the book. There has to be a per­sonal in­vest­ment in it. If I churned out what I think peo­ple would like, it would be a lot more fake than the books

I write.”

I felt a great need to iden­tify what racism is like in my coun­try.”

Jodi Picoult Jodi Picoult doesn’t shy away from con­fronting is­sues – in fact, they in­spire her writ­ing. The best-sell­ing author talks to Wendyl Nis­sen about her lat­est book and how she writes to find an­swers to her own ques­tions.

Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult, Allen & Un­win, is out on Oc­to­ber 1.

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