As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “Three Questions”. In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam in the week leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events. While most of the authors will be featured on our special “3 Questions” page, once each month ONE of the many amazing authors visiting the Norwich Bookstore wil be spotlighted here on our main page.
We are pleased to welcome Alix Kates Shulman, the author of Menage and many other books, to The Book Jam. Ms. Shulman is an American writer of fiction, memoirs, and essays, as well as one of the early activists of feminism’s Second Wave. She is perhaps best known for her bestselling debut, Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen (Knopf, 1972), “one of the first novels to emerge from the Women’s Liberation Movement” (Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing). Shulman first emerged as the author of the controversial “A Marriage Agreement,” which proposes that men and women split childcare and housework equally and details a method for doing so. This work has been widely reproduced in magazines (Life, Redbook, Ms., New York) and anthologies, including a Harvard textbook on contract law and continues to be debated on blogs (Washington Post Blog). Ms. Shulman holds degrees from Case Western Reserve University and Columbia University, and has taught writing and women’s literature at the University of Hawaii, the University of Maine, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Yale.
In Menage, a couple seems to have it all: wealth, a dream house in the suburbs, and two adorable children along with the nannies to raise them. But their marriage has lost its savor: she is a frustrated writer and he longs for a cultural trophy to hang on his belt. During a chance encounter in LA, Mack invites an exiled writer to live with them. Of course, complications arise. In Menage, Shulman pokes fun at our modern malaise (why is having it all never enough?), even as she traces the ever-changing dynamics within a marriage.
1. What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?
Plato’s ancient dialogue about love The Symposium first inspired me to write. I was a graduate student of twenty when I conceived a modern Symposium that would include, as Plato’s didn’t, women’s voices, and reflect contemporary ideas about love. But it was not until I encountered the richly sad and funny stories of Grace Paley, when I was in my early thirties, that I realized how our shared subject matter—the ordinary lives of young urban mothers—was suitable for literature. Only then did I start writing seriously. The third book to shape me as a writer is the one I’m reading at the moment, with pencil poised.
2. What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?
I’d treasure the chance to sit down with Virginia Woolf and discuss books, gossip, craft, art, and politics (including her self-appointed tasks of ending both discrimination against women and the insanity of war). Fortunately, Woolf, who was prolific as both novelist and essayist, published views on all these subjects, along with her brilliant novels, so I may hear her distinctive voice whenever I like.
As a writer of both fiction and nonfiction myself, I am always reading both. (This spring I have one new book of each: my satirical novel Ménage, and A Marriage Agreement and Other Essays: Four Decades of Feminist Writing.) Now at my bedside are the novels An Available Man, by Hilma Wolitzer, about love among people in their later years; the prize-winning debut Lamb, by Bonnie Nasdem; and the multi-generational The Possibility of You, by Pamela Redmond. In non-fiction I’m reading How to Live: A Life of Montaigne, by Sarah Bakewell, and The Next American Revolution, by the inspiring 96-year-old civil rights activist Grace Lee Boggs.