ATTA GIRL

The Fe­male Per­sua­sion’s Meg WOLITZER on fem­i­nism, pol­i­tics, power—and what she learned from her mother

InStyle (USA) - - Directory - By LEIGH BELZ RAY

How Meg Wolitzer’s fem­i­nist iden­tity in­formed her lat­est novel

It’s rare that a 464-page hard­cover—the ul­ti­mate lit­er­ary slow cooker—has the abil­ity to feel as cur­rent as a story in the daily news. But writer Meg Wolitzer has man­aged just that with her eighth novel, The Fe­male Per­sua­sion. It kicks off with a fate­ful mo­ment: In 2006 col­lege fresh­man Greer Kadet­sky and her room­mate go to a speech by cel­e­brated fem­i­nist Faith Frank. Faith and Greer then meet-cute in the bath­room, an in­ter­ac­tion Greer later re­al­izes is “the thrilling be­gin­ning of ev­ery­thing” for her. Per­sua­sion is ul­ti­mately a grand work, with im­mense in­sight into the loss of ide­al­ism, the for­ma­tion of iden­tity, and the nu­ances of be­ing a woman to­day. “Fem­i­nism has al­ways in­formed my work,” says Wolitzer, 58. “You want your novel to be able to be read with­out a time line be­side it. But I did have a sober­ing un­der­stand­ing that what was hap­pen­ing to women in this mo­ment was some­thing I wanted to put in.”

How has your process for writ­ing this novel been in flu­enced by the changes in pol­i­tics and cul­ture over the past two years? It’s a strange and very rapidly mov­ing time. One of the rea­sons I write nov­els is that they’re con­sid­ered things. So it’s in­ter­est­ing to hold up a novel against a mo­ment that’s chang­ing rest­lessly. I’m in the world; I see what’s hap­pen­ing in fem­i­nism and in pol­i­tics. And that must af­fect me in all kinds of ways. But this is not a book that was keyed to the mo­ment. These are ideas that I’ve been think­ing about for a re­ally long time: women in power, fem­i­nism, men­tors and pro­tégées, and, more im­por­tant, the per­son you meet who sets you on your path. I wanted to write about those things re­gard­less. But the one thing I did was make the last chap­ter jump into the fu­ture. And it ac­knowl­edges the elec­tion of Trump. That sec­tion was writ­ten on Novem­ber 9, 2016. What has your re­la­tion­ship to fem­i­nism been like through­out your life? Very close. I started a con­scious­ness-rais­ing group when I was a teenager in school, and we were earnest about what we were do­ing as we were mov­ing from girls to women. My mother, novelist Hilma Wolitzer, started writ­ing late; she pub­lished her first novel at 44. She’s some­one who never went to col­lege and wasn’t en­cour­aged to do so by her par­ents. But she was al­ways re­ally bril­liant—she stud­ied fic­tion as a reader. She was def­i­nitely af­fected by the women’s move­ment, and she had a lot of suc­cess in the ’70s and ’80s. I watched that hap­pen. That must have been re­ally for­ma­tive. It was. She was en­cour­aged by the women she knew to write and to put her­self out there. I mean, it wasn’t ex­pressly stated that way, but I took that in. There’s a scene in my nov­el­the In­ter­est­ings that was based on this mo­ment that hap­pened in real life. Some­one stood up at one of my read­ings and said, “My daugh­ter wants to be a play­wright, but I know how dif­fi­cult it is to make it in that world. What should I tell her?” And I said, “Well, is she good?” And this woman said, “Yeah, she’s great, and she re­ally wants to do it.” And I said, “Then you should say, ‘That’s won­der­ful!’ be­cause the world will whit­tle your daugh­ter down but a mother never should.” I see that as a fem­i­nist idea that you en­cour­age peo­ple, you en­cour­age young women. My mother did that for me. She never ex­pressed her­wor­ries about

the prac­ti­cal side of it. And look, there’s a case to be made for ex­press­ing your con­cerns. But her en­thu­si­asm for her own writ­ing was some­thing I could model for my­self. See­ing a mother who was ex­cited by her work and then hav­ing her say, “Yes, you can try it too,” was tre­men­dous for me.

Men­tor­ship— and specif­i­cally the dangers of putting peo­ple on pedestals— comes up with your char­ac­ters Greer and Faith.

Pedestals don’t give youmuch room to­move or dance. And I think that there are cer­tain ways we want to view the world—but part of grow­ing up is be­ing will­ing to see that you weren’t al­ways right and that peo­ple are nu­anced. Ro­man­ti­ciz­ing some­one is in­sist­ing on a cer­tain vi­sion. And it’s lim­it­ing. I think when re­la­tion­ships are fluid, that’s when things start to get re­ally in­ter­est­ing.

You wrote a piece for in 2012 about why fe­male lit­er­ary writ­ers aren’t taken as se­ri­ously as men. Six years later, have you seen a change?

The New York Times

Yes, def­i­nitely. One thing that be­gan to hap­pen is that Vida [Women in Lit­er­ary Arts], the or­ga­ni­za­tion that tracks rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in pub­lish­ing, started run­ning its counts of women’s ap­pear­ances in lit­er­ary pub­li­ca­tions. I think that opened up the con­ver­sa­tion. The more you talk about things, the more they have the chance of chang­ing. The Fe­male Per­sua­sion is out on April 3.

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