On Being a Woman Writer

In Suite Harmonic you take on some of the “big” themes – warfare, religious tensions, social organization – which are often assumed to be men’s territory, in both life and writing.  You once referred approvingly to another woman writer who regularly trespassed on this kind of territory. Did any such intention play a part in your project?

—Mary Michaels, London, England

Mary, I have a whole page of random notes about things I’d like to say in response to this question. But before I try to organize those ideas into a more focused answer, I want to square up the gender question with the fact that I’m a woman who, in Suite Harmonic, has written a novel about a man at war. Read more…

Do you have any advice or strategies to share with women who are conflicted in their desire to be good artists and good mothers or feel they have to choose one over the other? And in conection with this, what does writing give you and what has it cost you?

—Marie-Françoise Theodore, Los Angeles, California

I wrote one answer to this question and just wasn’t happy with it. It’s such a fundamental question that women face in general—how do you get the right balance between work and family? Is is possible to find it at all? For myself, I was able to thread the needle a bit because the art I pursued was one I could do at home and in the time I could wrestle from my day. I think you’re right, though, to single out the pursuit of art as a particular challenge for mothers, Read more…

Emily, I know you began writing seriously when you were a new mom. As a young mom myself, I wonder how the busyness and craziness of having young children affected your writing. What was your day like?

—Birgitta Nybeck, Bloomington, Minnesota

I’ve been looking forward to answering this question, Birgitta, because it brings back a time that was crazy, as you say, but also pretty special. I was primarily a stay-at-home mom as you are, and it was tremendously challenging finding enough time to write. Read more…

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