Women Writers and Bad Interviews

Feature by Lorraine Berry

Q: Don’t male authors get asked dumb questions, too?

A: Well…yes. And no.

 


Pity the female writer. Not only is she less likely to get reviewed in major magazines and short-listed for prizes, she often finds herself on the receiving end of interview questions that would leave most of us mouthing three little letters: WTF? 

Bring Up the BodiesMy frustration with author interviews came to a head last November, when Terry Gross interviewed Hilary Mantel on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air.

Mantel has won the Man Booker Prize twice, most recently in 2012 for Bring Up the Bodies. That novel and its predecessor Wolf Hall are the first two books in a planned trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell, a chief advisor to Henry VIII. Cromwell played a significant role in Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and her subsequent execution.

NPR likes to brag about its “driveway moments,” when a story is so good you sit in the driveway listening rather than going into the house. Me, I had a “drive the car into the bushes” moment while listening to the Mantel interview.

Gross began by asking about execution methods. This consumed at least a quarter of the interview, with the Fresh Air host delivering a figurative coup de grace:

GROSS: So excuse me for asking this, but if you had to be beheaded centuries ago, would you have preferred the guillotine, or the axe or sword customarily used in England?

MANTEL: Well, it’s a strange question.

GROSS: I thought so.

(LAUGHTER)

My reaction: Okay, that was weird, but now that we’ve gotten the silly questions out of the way, let’s talk about writing.

For about ten minutes, Gross did ask about the life of Thomas Cromwell—until the interview took another turn.

Mantel has suffered from health problems caused by endometriosis. In a frail voice, she explained to Gross that multiple surgeries had made it impossible for her to work for almost nine months between her two Cromwell books.

Then, in the icky moment that snapped my attention away from driving, Gross began asking Mantel increasingly intrusive questions about her body:

GROSS: So correct me if I’m wrong here. But because of the steroids that you are on to help with your condition…

MANTEL: Yeah.

GROSS: …and I think because of a thyroid condition as well, your weight just about doubled.

MANTEL: Yeah.

GROSS: And you ended up with a completely different body…

MANTEL: That’s right. Yes.

GROSS: …than the one you used to have. How did that change the sense of who you are?

Mantel soldiered on, even when Gross brought up what it must have been like under these circumstances to live in Saudi Arabia with her geologist husband:

GROSS: …And I’m thinking you probably already had gained the weight so you were in a new body in a country that basically granted you no rights. That must have been such a really strange and alienating period for you.

By this point, I was shouting at the radio. What did this have to do with writing? It sounded like one of Gross’s squirm-inducing chats about drug rehab with Richard Pryor or Steve Tyler. If I’d been in Mantel’s position, I would not have remained as dignified.

In Gross’s defense, this author’s struggles with weight had already been made public in a New Yorker profile; Mantel herself discusses them in her 2004 memoir Giving Up the Ghost. So, okay: If you talk about it in a memoir, you open yourself up to such questions. That’s the deal you make with the media devil.

But sometimes context is all, especially in a broadcast interview, and Gross didn’t preface her remarks with any reference to Mantel’s memoir or the New Yorker piece. Gross approached this distinguished literary author as if she were sitting next to her and had suddenly noticed that Hilary Mantel was fat.

“Could I See Your Shoe Collection?”

I knew the Gross-Mantel fiasco was not the first time I’d heard an author interview with a woman go awry. So, I did the cutting-edge thing: I used Twitter to find out if other writers, male and female, had ever experienced overly personal interview questions.

Jennifer Weiner © Andrea Cipriani Mecchi

First, I sent out a general tweet, which netted me immediate responses from a number of women and one man. Then I sent a tweet to Jennifer Weiner and several other well-known female authors: “Writing article on offensive questions asked of female writers. Have you encountered this?”

Within minutes, I had my first response—from Jodi Picoult—who tweeted, “I have been asked how I lost weight. MULTIPLE TIMES.”

Weiner, who’s often bristled at being dubbed a “chick lit” writer, tweeted back, too. She also re-tweeted my query, and the avalanche began. She and I then corresponded by email, and here’s an excerpt from one of her horror stories:

In an interview for the NYT Sunday magazine that I eventually bailed out of—because the (female!) reporter’s questions were so inappropriate—I was asked if she could see my shoe collection, if I felt bad for ‘abandoning’ my husband and daughter to go on book tour, how I felt about my mother being gay, and if I wrote my blog ‘so that people would like me.’

Margaret Overton, an anesthesiologist and author of the 2012 memoir Good in a Crisis (Bloomsbury), had a similar problem with an interviewer when it came to “why” she wrote. Overton contacted me on Facebook and then emailed me this account:

My worst interviewer led with ‘So, you went through this ugly four-year divorce and wrote this book to let it all hang out there.’ He asked if I ever dumbed myself down for one of my Internet dates. I said, ‘No, I don’t ever dumb myself down. That isn’t my nature, I don’t feel the need to dumb down for any reason, ever.’ That made it pretty clear he hadn’t read the book.

He asked personal questions about my children that I would not answer, and about my ex-husband that I felt legally unable to answer….

At the end, he actually misquoted a book jacket blurb. I knew I was in trouble.

Caitlin McCarthy, a screenwriter who responded to my initial tweet and then followed up by email, remembers when an interview came with a precondition:

A reporter at a small publication that covers Irish Americans responded to my press release. He sent me an email, asking if I could give him a call so that we could set up a time and a place for the interview—so I did.

To my surprise, the reporter asked if I would drive in from Worcester to Boston (over an hour away with traffic) on a Friday night, because he had tickets to Celtic Woman. ‘Would you like to see the show with me? We could do the interview over dinner afterward.’

Uh…isn’t that a date?

When McCarthy refused, she never heard from the reporter again.

It’s not just journalists who leap out of bounds. Lauren Groff recalls readings where she was asked a number of intrusive questions: 

The one that stands out was during the tour for my first book, The Monsters of Templeton, in which a main character becomes pregnant and isn’t forthcoming about who the father is. I was myself very pregnant at the time. A woman stood up in the audience and asked me if I knew who the father of my baby was.

To be sure, my survey is very informal and anecdotal. But all the women who responded to me—whether by tweet, email, or Facebook—reported that interviewers or fans had grilled them about personal details.

“Have You Ever Died?”

Of course, authors of every persuasion have grumbled for decades—if not centuries—about the havoc journalists can wreak.

Connie Willis insists that all writers get asked dumb questions. In a recent TW interview I did with her, the renowned science fiction author points out that, for the average reader (or literal-minded reporter), the idea of making up something whole-cloth out of your head is a foreign concept. They assume you must be drawing on some event that happened to you personally.

This is Willis’s generous explanation for why people have actually asked her if she’s experienced the things she’s described in her novels, including time travel and death.

When I asked J. Robert Lennon, author of literary novels like Familiar (Graywolf, 2012) and the subject of an upcoming TW interview, if he’d ever dealt with intrusive questions, he said no, not the way he knew female writers did.

But in his email response, he noted that he’d faced a different problem: 

I’ve had some interviewers, always men, who frame their questions in terms of complicated and (to me) obscure references to other writers, as if to prove to me how smart they are. I’ve talked to some female writers who say this never happens to them—it’s a male pissing-contest thing.

The qualitative difference between Lauren Groff being asked about the paternity of her baby and Lennon’s pissing contest is the crux of the matter. The first question feels shaming in its intent, while the second is confrontational about the actual subject at hand: writing. In other words, personal questions directed at a male writer don’t dispute his right to be a writer. Lennon claims that interviewers have tried to challenge his intellect. But the women I heard from have been challenged in ways that implicate their bodies—through overt references to children, marriages, or attractiveness as potential dates.

“Men get insulted in a different way,” Lennon adds, “one that is less personally wounding. We don’t get asked to prove we’re legit the way women do.”

“Do You Have a Thing for Little Debbie?”

If anything, my disgust with the various ways female authors are undermined has only deepened since that “drive the car into the bushes” moment last November.

Yet, while I’ve heard plenty since Mantel’s Fresh Air interview to confirm my suspicions about female writers and bad interviews, other stories don’t fit into a knee-jerk interpretation. I’m convinced that intrusive questions are still predominantly a woman’s problem, but screaming “misogyny!” fails to get at the nuances.

In fact, the novelist who put this in perspective for me is male—Mat Johnson, recipient of a USA James Baldwin fellowship and the 2011 John Dos Passos Prize for Literature. At first, he denied getting intrusive questions. Then he asked what I meant specifically.

“Lordy,” he tweeted back. “I’ve had kid questions. Also weight questions. But as a male, there’s so much less social stigma there.” He added, “I get [questions] on race, almost always, but I’ve done work on race, so I basically consider it open for play.”

When Johnson invited me to email him, I did, asking if he saw connections between race and gender and the types of questions that writers get asked. His reply:

White, male, and straight is an invisible identity for most Americans. So when [interviewers] come up with questions, they never wonder how this very specific identity influences the work. It’s ‘the norm’…. [But] most non-white writers I know get much of the questioning filtered through identity, as if their personal identity was an artistic choice.

Yes. Just check the Paris Review, the gold standard for literary interviews, for proof that white male authors are the norm. On its interview page, 23 featured interviews are currently listed for the “2010s.” Of those 23, only 4 of the writers are women. Only 2 are authors of color: Samuel Delany and Louise Erdrich.

Racism and sexism are often linked, scuttling literary opportunities in similar ways. The connection isn’t a simple one-to-one, however. For Johnson, interview questions that seem too personal for a woman likely feel much less so to a man—“not because of personal sensitivity issues,” he says, “but because of societal expectations.”

He believes he gets asked about his weight—for example, regarding a character in his 2012 novel PYM who loves Little Debbie snack cakes—because he’s publicly discussed being a Type II diabetic. But “[a]s a man,” he writes, “it doesn’t matter as much, because I will always be more valued for my accomplishment than my appearance.”

For his part, Victor LaValle, a former National Book Award judge and author of The Devil in Silver (Spiegel & Grau, 2012), tweeted me that he encourages personal questions, arguing that “I write from my life and feel okay saying so.”

LaValle and I had a wide-ranging conversation, much of it through back-and-forth tweets. I tried to draw him out about whether he thought race played a part in the questions writers are asked, but he didn’t respond to those queries. Clearly, the impact of race—and one’s comfort level with such questions—could pack many articles beyond this one.

Still, like Johnson, LaValle did confirm that the probing questions he’s asked aren’t the same as those lobbed at women:

As a man, I do think there’s a whole range of questions/presumptuousness I never encounter…. I believe in openness, but skeevy interviewers deserve to get smacked.

“How Clueless Can You Be?”

Indeed, the skeevy among us deserve more than smacks, and maybe it was ever thus. If you’re an author in the public eye, especially an author who is not a white male, maybe it does come down to learning the right publicity tricks, to getting good at managing fools and voyeuristic creeps.

Along with many of the other women I contacted, Lauren Groff believes that female authors “have a very difficult time being taken seriously, especially early in their careers.” So, when interviewers get too personal, she says, she derails that line of questioning as fast as she can:

I’ve managed the questions in different ways, most recently by preempting the question about the alliance between my body and my work very early in the interview.

I agree with her strategy—it’s smart and survival oriented—but I’m not ready to let anyone who asks intrusive questions off the hook. The sexism and racism may be unconscious, but cluelessness, journalistic time constraints, “readers want to know,” “everyone does it”—none of that is a good excuse.

NPR’s Terry Gross is no stranger to feminism, but she couldn’t seem to help herself when she said to Mantel, “I was thinking if anyone ever needs an antidote to princess fantasies, they might want to read your books.” Mantel laughed and agreed, but then:

GROSS: Because women who were chosen as queen, that sounds really great, right, but if they don’t give birth to a male heir for Henry VIII, bam, they’re executed.

MANTEL: Well no, I don’t think it’s as simple as that, in all fairness.

GROSS: Oh, OK.

 


Publishing Information

 



Lorraine Berry is an associate editor at Talking Writing. On Twitter, you’ll find her @BerryFLW.

Just before the Mantel interview was first broadcast, she notes, a story drifted through the blogosphere about a woman writer who’d been asked, based on one of her characters, if she herself had ever had an abortion. When Lorraine contacted novelist Nichole Bernier, she, too remembered the incident, but neither of them could track down the original source.

“I feel as if my current article has just scratched the surface,” Lorraine adds. “Many great quotes from authors who contacted me ended up on the cutting-room floor, but I’ll continue writing about these issues. If you’ve got an interview story to share, please comment here or get in touch on Twitter.”


 

Comments

I'm in no way famous or even particularly renowned as an author (alas). What did bring me a bit of notoriety was my "status" as a 9/11 widow. When my first book came out (Because I Say So: Moral Authority's Dangerous Appeal) my thesis-- that a version of moral authority, whether assumed or acquired, was present in American culture--certainly built off my experience of 9/11. Still, I was taken aback when I was asked at least twice during book-related interviews if I had started dating. I can't help but think that was gender-specific.

The abortion question story was published on Huffpo Books not that long ago but I can't remember title or author. (No sympathy though. Nobody cares how difficult a fiction writer's life is. Male or female. You're expected to starve. Or catch cirrohsis. Or tb pre ww2.)

Seriously ladies, I want you to read biographies of Kafka, Pessoa, Walter Benjamin, Bruno Schulz, Georg Buchner and Lautremont and then come back to me and whine about how unappreciated you are.

If we can't be bothered to make lit fic a nice safe comfy boojie career for men what makes you think we will feel any guilt about women starving in the gutter in an alcoholic stupor?

Watch a Dylan press conference from the 60's on youtube for instuction on how to abuse the press.

Rob, I agree with Johanna that the point of this article is not for contemporary women authors to whinge that they have it worse than any other author going back decades, even centuries. Nobody here is comparing themselves to Kafka or Benjamin and claiming that bad interviews are the equivalent of starving or other kinds of suffering. The point is that, in these supposedly post-feminist and post-racial times, those who aren't white male authors still get treated differently by the media. Sometimes that's okay, sometimes it's not. But regardless of how idiotic you think the press is, the way public intellectuals are defined by journalists is a good way to see gender politics in action.

Many pundits and commentators (some of them female) claim that we're "past all that," but I think it's clear that we're not. And the most disturbing thing? An article like this ends up seeming provocative or surprising.

A.S. King--wow. These are the stories I need to hear. Would it be okay to e-mail you? I'd love to hear more about this.
I was off the grid for three days, and was unable to check any comments while I was on a retreat somewhere with no wireless connection or cell phone reception. It was a great way to get writing done.
Thanks to everyone who has responded. I think it's right that when any author gets asked a question that crosses a boundary, it's acceptable, nay, necessary, to stop the interviewer in his/her tracks and ask, "Why are you asking me that?" It's the only way, I think, for interviewers to think about what they're doing.
This issue contains layers upon layers. I will be exploring this more and encourage anyone who has had this experience to e-mail me in care of Talking Writing or tweet me @BerryFLW or leave a comment here.
Thank you to everyone who has responded--but please keep the comments coming.

Rob,
You are missing the point. It was not about how hard or easy writers have according to their gender. Every writer is a soldier. It was about the bias so clearly demonstrated, even from same gender interviewers that goes back to the differences in power and societal expectations about male and female writers.
I agree with you about being more alert and critical when interviewed. I just love Dylan in those interviews, showing his extreme discomfort being seen as a hero or leader of some kind to his generation and demonstrating his lack of respect for the stupid questions of the interviewers.
Let's all become more aware about those biases in our sector, I say.

Nikki,
I'm absolutely shocked that you were asked such insensitive questions. On the other hand, given other women's experiences, I guess I'm not shocked. Still, how awful. Thanks for sharing.

Jenn, yes, I see that now. The irony is that we have gone back and forth about this many times ourselves, and my preference as an editor would always be "female writers" (in fact, I'm pretty sure I used that in my response to Johanna). But here's where we come up against what a magazine headline is supposed to convey and how we hook the most readers. In hindsight, I think we should have gone with "Female Writers and Bad Interviews" -- then again, I wonder if the piece would have gotten as much play then. Hard to know, but sometimes you have to step out in front and battle the status quo at every level. Thanks for taking me to task.

Renee--in my author note, I recall the same interview, but I'll be damned if I can remember the source. I'm hoping someone else will, because I would love to talk to that author.

Thank you, Lorraine. This was a thoughtful and important piece. I loved he way you moved from your own initial gut response to some quick research in the field. The responses you received and shared here, indicate more work to do in this area. Brava!

Interesting article. I guess if the biggest selling, most loved authors in the world weren't all women, I might care.

Another example: When Terry Gross interviewed Eliza Griswold about her book The Tenth Parallel, she introduced her with the tidbit about Griswold's father being the bishop who ordained the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. Then she used the same text to sign out for every break, and sign back in after every break. That added up to at least six repetitions of that factoid, which had nothing whatever to do with Griswold's distinguished career as a poet and journalist. Why, why, why?

"Pity the female writer."

Mantel. Weiner. Picoult.

It must be a terrible strain finding tax shelters for all that money.

Intriguing article, much thought being provoked over here. Your investigations may lead you to a book, and I would read it.

Brilliant, Lorraine (and the "driving the car into the bushes" had me howling) I get "The Week" magazine. They have a weekly feature where an author names HIS (or her) favorite books. Women invariably include male and female authors; nine times out of ten the chosen male writers name only other male authors. Makes me bonkers.

There was also a case where a woman was asked if she had ever had an abortion, because abortion appeared as a minor plot point in her FICTIONAL book. I can't remember the details but I remember thinking it was an absolutely ridiculous question because not only does it assume a writer can only write thinly veiled biographies, it is also an intensely personal question that carries a lot of stigma. Both sides of the abortion argument would have loved to pick her answer apart.

I don't think you'd find the average male author asked about whether he'd had a vasectomy, if he masturbated, etc. Those may be weak comparisons to abortion, but there isn't much that comes to the same kind of personal/intimate/political/controversy as abortion.

I'm feeling grateful to be an obscure writer right now...Wow. Although I really think Johanna is onto something here...Male writers probably don't answer such sideways queries, while women are pretty much trained from birth to people-please even if it means self-immolation. We think we HAVE to answer and we need to change our thinking-- and maybe allow ourselves a few minutes of reflection on such bizarre interrogatory angles while we take off the lace gloves and put on the boxing gloves. Here's to having grace under fire...

Thank you for writing this, Lorraine! Fantastic examples and boy have I been there. My first radio interview was a defensive, arrogant, condescending individual who wouldn't give me a chance to talk and assumed my novel of fiction reflected personal beliefs (We are paid to lie). I am sharing this on my sites!

I agree, tonn, that Terry Gross has done many fine interviews. However, what information came out of the Mantel interview that nobody else had uncoveredt? In this case, I was very disappointed, as was Lorraine Berry. The fact is, the "skeevy interviewers" Victor LaValle mentions aren't the only ones who cross the line; it can also be experienced female interviewers from NPR who overstep. I think Lorraine's main point is that this kind of sexism is deeply ingrained in the culture, which is why it surfaces in such unexpected ways even in the liberal media.

Johanna: At TW, "writer" is always considered a gender-neutral term. This piece, however, focuses specifically on gender differences in the treatment of male and female authors. In order to indicate what the piece is about, we felt it was important to use the gender modifier with "writer" in the title.

Matthew, I'm really happy to have you weigh in!

I loved this! Thank you! Being a woman, and author, and an author who is known most for my young adult books, I get asked some really strange questions. My recent favorite: Because you write for young adults, do you consider yourself an adolescent?
I've also been asked if I write as a hobby because I'm married (presumably because they think I don't need a job...because I'm married? Which, I believe, puts us squarely mid-20th century somewhere.)

Loved this article, Lorraine! We've recently introduced interviews in Carve's Premium Edition and this has made me even more sensitive to choosing our questions and making sure we approach all of our interviewees with dignity and respect. Thank you. Such a shame to see how tilted against women even The Paris Review is!

Regarding Terry Gross, it is her digressions that she seems to take with all her subjects that make her interviews better than others. She gets information out of her people that others just don't.

Great piece, thanks. Just to be precise, I think the adjective "woman" writer in itself suggested that one speaks about a man when the word "writer" is used. This is gender biased language in my view.
One can compare it to other professions with the same bias in traditionally male territory.
To be less biased in one's language is to use "writer" as a gender-neutral word and then add "male" and "female" as adjective to point out differences, as in your article.
I think you're on to this gender difference as discriminative. is definitely an issue. While women often are much more skilled at speaking about feelings and own life experiences, those characteristics should not be a baiting be exploited by interviewers. Most men would not put up with such questions, unless they did write a memoir and even then, I wonder if they would answer. Female authors should be aware and refuse to answer, or divert the question. Johanna

The author asked about her personal experience with abortion was Hilary Jordan. Her novel was When She Woke.

Thanks so much for this, Lorraine. Great Piece. As a poet about to embark on the publication of my first novel, I had no idea what I'm about to get into! The beautiful thing about being a poet is that there's very little in the way of celebrity, and people would rather hear you read your work than dish on your personal life. Along with all the newest VIDA statistics, which show just how a time women have getting their stuff out there in the first place, your piece hoists a big red flag on where we in the literary world are in terms of gender parity. At least I'll be going into this battleground armed with a little forewarning!

TW's Martha Nichols completely missed Johanna van Zanten's point about the adjectival use of "women" in the headline and article, which is that you never see "men" used as an adjective the same way. Would you ever say "men writers", "men doctors", "men drivers"? Of course not. It's clunky. You would use "male" as the adjective. Yet many reporters instinctively say "women writers/doctors/drivers". Using a female-specific formulation without a male-specific equivalent implies that there is a class called "writers", and then there is a class called "women writers", and the two do not overlap. (Cf: the recent flap about that Wikipedia editor who was moving female American novelists into a separate category, leaving only male novelists in the "American writers" category.) As Johanna says, the language should reflect the fact that there are male and female writers, all of whom are included in the term "writers".

As an MFA student, preparing to conduct my first literary interview, I find your article fascinating and provocative. Your article has got me considering what my own inclinations in asking questions of an author might be. My own gender bias is probably that women are generally more introspective and in touch with how various aspects of our identitites and life experience impact our writing than men are, and are likely to be more forthcoming.

So what do you suggest for interviewers who want to proceed in a professional manner? Is it fair game to ask subjects off-record what they are comfortable talking about? Would you suggest open-ended questions like, "What factors from your own life have influenced your writing?"

I wonder whether a part of this issue is that we forget we aren't having a private, social conversation, but rather are engaged in a professional endeavor when conducting an interview.

About the Mantel/Gross interview, I tuned in midway while driving and wasn't paying full attention. From the interview, I'd mistakenly assumed the book under discussion was about Mantel's weight/body struggles.

In any case, I'm so glad to have discovered Talking Writing at AWP. I welcome your input on the art of the literary interview, including references to other articles or texts on the subject.

Warm regards from Wintry Chicago,
Arlyn Miller

Arlyn, thanks for asking about how to conduct interviews. I can give you a few quick answers from my perspective as a journalist. In author interviews, there's always a tension between too many personal details and PR puffery. In fact, it's not always about being "nice" to an interviewee; it's about operating in an ethical manner. For an author interview, the focus should be on the creative work—the process of creating it and the content of the work—and the questions should indicate that you've at least read some of it.

If authors raise identity issues themselves, that's fine. And there are times when identity issues are very much a part of the work in question. It's interesting to hear about where an author grew up and anything else that's had an impact on the writer he or she has become. But focusing most questions on personal matters that aren't related to the work is very unprofessional, and it's usually a sign that the interviewer doesn't care about the book or person being interviewed.

Regarding your specific questions, I would not invite interviewees to tell you what they're comfortable talking about—that's a recipe for a boring interview. Discomfort is not always a bad thing when you're trying to get a creative person to discuss his or her work. When I begin an interview, I let subjects know that I'm taping what they say, and that anything they tell me is on the record—unless they tell me otherwise. They're free to tell me something is off the record at at any point (and the media savvy ones do without me ever uttering the words "off the record").

A good interview is a conversation. If you're behaving ethically as a journalist, very few people in the public eye forget the boundaries between public and private conversations—and a conversational approach often leads to far more reflective answers from a subject. (BTW, I don't think that women are generally more introspective than men about their lives as writers.)

“What factors from your own life have influenced your writing?”—well, that's okay, but it's the kind of thing that usually generates canned responses from an interviewee. I much prefer quirky questions that help reveal creative preferences and break the ice. One of my students, for example, plans to open an interview with "What's your favorite cartoon character?"

As a female writer of color,

As a female writer of color, who happens to write about things that have absolutely nothing to do with color or sex, I have earned the right to chuckle at this discussion (to keep from crying). I knew the DAY I picked up a pen, a job application, a telephone and any other form of gravitas-evoking 'gravitascium' -- that I would be encouraged to shut the eff up and go sit my azz down somewhere. Women of color learn this very early on.

Actually, the fact that I KNOW I won't be taken seriously -- as a default -- is exactly what GIVES me the the latitude to pen my most authentic work.

After a life of "can I HELP you?" from smothering store clerks every time I look at a shoe or a frock sideways while white women are unadulterated in the distance robbing the same store blind; I could care less if an interviewer asks me what role my personal struggles with weight or blackness or menopause or make-up mirrors plays in my writing. I already KNOW that they have not likely read my work and can't fathom that a character of any discernible depth could be peeled from MY vapid, Springer-watching cranium.

I just decide that not taking me seriously as a writer, a soul, an active mind in a complex society, whatever -- is their loss -- and I keep it moving.

Lincoln, thanks for taking

Lincoln, thanks for taking this discussion farther, because you are very right that getting asked personal questions feels like a privilege compared with not even being taken seriously enough to pass the mainstream publishing gates or to be called up by Terry Gross's people. I'd love to have you write more about this for Talking Writing. I'll contact you about that under separate cover.

I so agree with you about

I so agree with you about terry Gross. i had stopped listening to her for a couple years and when I began again, she had become prurient, intrusive, icky-- prying nosy parker, specifically asking both women and men about their sex lives. The most recent was last night. Gross asked the interviewee about the origins of the sexual content of her films. She gave a very personal answer about gender identity and her intense emotional feelings about that. Then, Terry shoots back (snaps), yeah, but I mean the sexual origins, or is sexuality only intellectual for you? (Said as a rhetorical statement, in an accusing, critical way like it was her gotcha question in a hard charging political debate. Terry was asking her to talk about what she does in the bedroom!! and whatever salacious bits she could drag out. Terry has become bored, too self-important and maybe cracking up. She used to be the soul of consideration and timing.She did the same kind of prying with Angelica Huston, and many more. I wold say she has gotten pressure to go for the salacious juggler, but it really seems to be all Terry.

Chris. I heard that interview

Chris. I heard that interview the other day, too. And I had a similar reaction, although mine was more along the line of "I'm not sure I understand what the hell Gross is talking about." I don't mean to open can of whoop-ass on Gross, but I also agree with you that it's increasingly a pattern for her to just be inappropriate. I'm not sure if she's trying to boost Fresh Air's ratings by taking the intellectual levels down a few notches, but not only is she asking more prurient questions, of late, she's been explaining things to guests as if they were too stupid to get her question the first time. She asks a question, and then, before the guest can answer, she explains the question again, only this time, inserting her belief and asking the guest to agree with her. I'm not sure what the solution is. I have started listening to Bob Edwards, and think he's a far superior interviewer but his audience on Sirius XMNPR is much smaller than hers.

And Lincoln. I don't know if you ever responded to Martha's query, but if you do get notified about this comment, I do hope that you are working on something for us. I would love to talk to you about something that I'm working on.

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