Author Imprint

S2018 E7 | FULL EPISODE

Meg Wolitzer Discusses "The Female Persuasion"

In her new novel, best-selling author Meg Wolitzer explores the life of a young woman growing into her identity as a feminist. After suffering a sexual assault, the protagonist seeks the advice of a famous feminist - but life complicates their mentorship. These themes are particularly relevant today, but Meg has been thinking about them for years. This book is her "warm take" on gender equality.

AIRED: April 26, 2018 | 0:09:26
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TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to Author Imprint, I'm

your host, Maddie Orton.

The past year has changed the

way we talk about gender in a

way we haven't seen since the

60s.

Between the Me Too movement

and Women's Marches, the

subject is garnering new

attention and it seems like

everyone is scrambling to

figure out what happens next.

In this episode, guest host

Lisa Lucas, the Executive

Director of the National Book

Foundation, will interview Meg

Wolitzer.

Meg's latest novel, "The

Female Persuasion" shines a

light on our zeitgeist.

She explores how men and women

relate to each other and to

power.

Here's Lisa.

So excited to talk to you

today about your new book.

Thank you.

"The Female Persuasion." So

we've talked about the fact

that "The Interestings" is one

of my very favorite books.

Yes I was so pleased.

And I was really excited both

that there was a new book and

that it was talking about

something that is so crazily

timely right now.

It is.

In the age of Me Too.

It is.

So how long ago did you start

"The Female Persuasion"?

How long ago did you start

writing?

I've been working at it for

years.

While we are in a moment right

now, these are not new issues,

these are issues I've been

thinking about for a really

long time.

And how do you think now that

the world has started thinking

about these issues that women

are dealing with all the time

and have always dealt with,

will receive the book?

The world is catching up in a

lot of ways.

For me as a fiction writer

though, one of the things that

I love is like in this time of

"hot takes" I told somebody

that I'm the master of the

"warm take." Necause writing

fiction about things you care

about in this, you know, in

this moment things like power,

female power, who has it, who

wants it, misogyny, all of

these things that I've been

thinking about a long time.

You can do it through nuance

when you write a novel, as

opposed to the headlines.

Do you have any nervousness

about reception, given that

everybody is talking about it,

that it seems sort of timely

in a way?

You know you always have

nervousness when you have a

novel coming out because it is

your baby, it is your thing,

you know it really well, you

can quote lines back to

yourself, and you do.

Alone at night.

I want it to be good, I want

it to be right, and I want

people to take something from

it.

So you can't control that.

Yeah.

So one of the things that I

was so impressed by, that's

sort of non narrative, it's

more just about the way that

you dealt with so many things

that feminism is dealing with

right now; intersectionality,

multigenerational feminists

sort of at odds with one

another, thinking about power,

right, within these movements.

Right, not just power male

female but also all of these

varying types of power between

women.

For me ideas are channeled

through characters and what

was interesting for me to do

this time, because I hadn't

done it before, is to have a

novel in which there were

people of two different

generations dealing with each

other at the same time.

You know the media of course

always loves a cat fight

between generations.

But I'm struck too, again and

again, by so many of the

things I think that women want

from different generations are

so similar.

And the characters of course

always come together in

conflict.

They have to be real people.

It's not just like they can be

vessels for ideas or

ideologies, they have to be

real.

And then what they care about

comes out.

That's one of the things that

I love most about this book

and about "The Interestings"

which is the characters.

It feels like reading about a

real person that sits next to

you in your office or that's

riding the subway, and it's

like this looking in the

window that we all wish we

could do into other people's

lives.

Well I'm really thrilled that

you feel that way.

I didn't want to write a

pamphlet.

I really wanted to write a

novel with a depth of

experience.

So you really have to go deep.

It's about characters and it's

about what your passions are

as a writer.

And mentorship as a huge thing

and it's complicated right.

Mentorship is this complicated

thing...

Oh definitely.

It is something that I

actually hadn't seen written

about as much as I thought it

would have been written about.

Certainly there are some great

things about mentors out

there, books that I've loved,

and movies, but I haven't

really seen it written about

this way, exactly, where you

can see it from both sides.

It's not like that I'm taking

a side and one of the things

about looking at this moment

in time is that mentorship is

such a, for me, it's such a

wonderful lens to sort of look

at it through.

Because what about, not the

ways that people undermine

each other, but what about the

ways that they really try to

help each other?

I've really been helped by a

lot of women in my life.

I have, and you know you try

to do that yourself too.

(Yea) Of course it's

complicated.

There are ways that we betray

each other, there are ways

that we disappoint each other.

And that's all in the book.

So who are some of your

mentors and how did they shape

who you are?

Much later on Nora Ephron was

a person who was very

important to me and she was so

supportive of writers whose

work she liked.

She would be really

enthusiastic, and I think

that's one of the things that

mentors can give the people

who they are helping, they can

give them not only their

expertise, but their

excitement.

And that means just the world

to you.

Yeah.

No it's amazing.

What was- what was Nora Ephron

like?

Here, I'm going to say the

dullest thing.

She was funny.

That's an inside scoop.

She was funny, she was engaged

in other people and in the

world, in the world of ideas.

She was a huge reader and she

was a Scrabble player, which I

am, and we got to play

Scrabble.

So you're at a point in your

career where I think you can

call it a body of work.

Oh!

Ok, nice.

Right.

Like how many books have you

written?

Uh it's - it depends on how

you count, but it's up there

into like the ten range.

I mean that's incredible.

When you look at all of it you

know, what do you- what do you

notice the most in the sort of

change in your own voice in

the stories that you want to

tell and how well or

differently you tell them?

There have been some themes

that have been there from the

start.

So this book which does deal

with "What is it like to have

power?

What is it like to be a woman

who has power in the world?

And what about misogyny?"

These are things that I can

track back through my whole

writing life.

I'm always like, "What's

obssessing me?"

People say that thing, "Write

what you know." For me it's

always been, "Write what

obsesses you." What are the

things you think about?

And you always have more to

say about them?

And in this case it was- I

hadn't written about it so

directly.

So I think that these are

things that have been with me

for a really long time.

One of the things I notice is

this, you know, and it happens

on different timelines right.

Like this book has a different

timeline than the full life

arc of "The Interestings".

Yea it's a shorter sweep.

It's a shorter sweep but it's

still- there's so much about

the process of becoming.

Right, like the process of

becoming a person or an adult

or a success.

Success comes- You know it's

like, these are successful

people.

At least in the last two (yea)

that are people who have done

very well and have come from

not, you know, being young and

not doing very well and

becoming success.

Is there a particular reason

that you've an interest in

sort of that arc of you know

upward mobility?

I want to write a novel, and I

hope that I have with "The

Female Persuasion" in which

you get access to people's

inner lives.

You get access to the interior

moments.

So I kind of think that

looking at people over time is

something that a novel can do

really well.

I'm writing a talk about

literature and I started it

with thinking about Me Too,

and thinking about how

complicated it has felt to

have these conversations.

And one of the books that I

felt like was clarifying like

during all these

conversations, was this book

was "The Female Persuasion."

Oh excellent.

It was just helpful because I

think reading about, again

that like protracted

engagement with a piece of

text, and really diving in,

and being able to be with a

story rather than reading some

"hot take" and just being like

I have to develop my feelings

around it, was so helpful.

No so we're - we're - I'm

really really happy to hear

that, because we are so

flooded by important

nonfiction, important essays

about this topic.

And I think what novels do, is

they slow things down.

We're talking about essential

questions right now in the

world.

How are we together?

How should we be?

What's right?

What - what creates equality?

Right.

And I think on a more

practical level the book

starts with sexual assault.

And I think that it's so hard

for people to imagine what

these things that don't seem

big on paper, or written as a

sentence in a newspaper

article, can be so enormous

for a person.

Yea my character, Greer, it

opens with her at college and

she's a very very shy person

and she has an experience

that's really upsetting to her

at college and she doesn't

quite know what it is or what

to do with it.

And the novel tracks her

evolution.

When the great famous feminist

comes to speak at her campus

and it moves from there.

Yeah I can say to somebody

"it's complicated" if I can't

get them to understand what

I'm saying, but if I show them

that chapter I don't have to

say "it's complicated" I can

show that it's complicated.

That's right because saying

it's complicated can mean a

million things but showing the

specific ways- the thing that

novels do is, you know, they

are specific.

They show not just "What is it

like for a woman to have this

experience" what was it like

for this one to?

Well thank you so much for

sharing your time and your

book.

Oh my pleasure.

"The Female Persuasion," it's

very good.

Thank you so much.

Thanks again.

Take care.

Thanks so much Lisa.

Check out "The Female

Persuasion" wherever books are

sold.

Let us know what you're

reading on Facebook or Twitter

at #AuthorImprint.

I'm Maddie Orton, thanks for

tuning in.

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