Recently, Jennifer Egan won a Pulitzer prize for her newest fictional work “A Visit From The Goon Squad”. While I am not a fan of works that are (in my humble opinion) some kind of love child that could have been spawned by a brief, drunken tryst between Palahniuk and Grisham, I am pleased for the praise that the writing of a novel should receive, particularly because women have not been as recognized in this avenue that I believe they should have. I am not, however, pleased with her interview with the Wall Street Journal.
The interview began benignly enough, with all the appropriate statements about how things are unreal, uncanny, and how she had to leave her lunch reservation because it was just all too much. The dialogue continued, filling the page mostly with the interviewer asking repeatedly how winning an award of this importance made the author feel, and Egan giving modest replies, like “nutty” and “fantastical”, and stating that now that her book has received such attention, she feels like an outsider, as if she should go back and reread it.
Seems pretty harmless, right?
The last question she was asked referred to the difference in how men and women “come off” in the media. Her outlook on the subject was not focused on the differences in voicing opinions from a gender based standpoint. Rather, it focused on women remaining quiet and aiming for the literary stars. She went on to compare “The Tiger’s Wife” by Tea Obreht, to Kaavya Viswanathan’s quasi-plagiarism of “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life”. She called Obreht’s type a “young, ambitious writer”, and then blasted Viswanathan not for her plagiarism, but for plagiarizing works Egan considers to be “derivative, banal stuff”, and for utilizing the authoresses of “Chick-Lit” as role models for the written word.
“My advice for young female writers would be to shoot high and not cower”, ended her article.
I wonder how Egan would have felt if the Pulitzer Foundation had decided that her words were unworthy because…oh, I don’t know, they didn’t like her font? Or her chapter titling preferences were not theirs? The picture over the blurb-ography on the back cover was a bit too hippy-dippie?
Of course, the idea that a foundation dedicated to the existence, fostering, and praise of extraordinary works of art could be capable of (and willing to) degrade an author’s brainchild is insane.
Additional insanity, in my opinion, is the idea that a woman so keen on the idea of female authors would tread so heavily across not only other published, award winning female authors, but also across those who read the above mentioned, and are just finding the best way to let the ink flow from their pens.
Be it Jennifer Weiner, Peter Beagle, Norman Mailer, or the shadow writer for Nicole Richie, if it is inspiring to you, it is inspiring.
Whether your tastes lie with Kinsella or with Tolstoy, when you write, your words are your own, and let no one take your muse from you.