"First Year: An Interview with John Stoltenberg, March 11, 2006"
Beth: How did you and Andrea first meet?
John: The year was 1974. We were introduced through a mutual friend, a theater director she had met through her work with an anti--Vietnam War group called Redress. I was administrative director in the theater company that he was the artistic director of. He invited us both to a meeting of an organization called the Gay Academic Union, and that's where I connected her name and her face.
But the time we got to meet in a real way was the night of an anti-war benefit poetry reading in Greenwich Village. This theater director friend of ours was reading Neruda and there were other poets reading other things. I walked out, because the tenor of the poetry had taken this really woman-hating turn, and for the life of me I'm not sure what precipitated my awareness of that; it just didn't seem like a place I wanted to keep sitting in anymore. I happened to run into Andrea in the street, and she had walked out for the same reason.
We began to talk, and she talked to me about a writing assignment that she had to go interview a guy who was in prison--his name was Tommy Trantino--and she was having a lot of trouble with the assignment because given what he had done to women, she thought he should be in jail. But her job as a writer--I think it was an assignment for the Village Voice--was to portray him as some kind of political prisoner, and she was conflicted about it. I--who had no allegiance to the left whatsoever--thought this was a no-brainer and she shouldn't do it. For some reason I can't account for, this was an epiphany--both between us and for her. My naïve take on that conflict she was in was the thing no one around her was telling her. She didn't take the assignment, and we started seeing a lot of each other after that. This was April of 1974. By June we decided to live together, and on August 1 we began living together.
B: What was the first of her writing that you ever read?
J: It was Woman Hating. She brought me a copy of it, fresh off the press, one of the author copies she got. She came to the apartment where I was living, Upper West Side Manhattan, and I remember she took it out of a shopping bag and gave it to me. She was really proud of it. I read it in one sitting, I just tore through it, I was riveted. I laughed, and I was moved, and I was fundamentally changed by the recognition in that book that the notion of two polar opposite sexes is a cultural fiction. That was a liberation for me; it changed me forever.
B: As your relationship progressed, would you talk a lot with her about what she was writing or read her rough drafts?
J: There was very little that I wrote that she didn't see and give me comments on. And she would show me things and I would give her notes on them. We each saw about 99% of what the other wrote before it went out into the world. It was just part of how we worked. It's hard to imagine not having that anymore. I think I gave better readings on some kinds of material than on others. I probably wasn't a very good reader of her fiction; I commented more on articles and essays and chapters of nonfiction books. The piece in the Guardian about disability that she wrote, that was published after her death, her first version of that didn't have a political ending. It was just personal, and I remember encouraging her to give her story the kind of political context that she had given all of her other personal stories, of abuse and so forth. And she did. And so the piece as she sent it in looked at disability in a larger political way. That one came to mind because it was the most recent. But there were things like that.
B: What was her writing process like?
J: When I met her she was working on a manual typewriter, and she converted over to an electric some years later. She would retype a page maybe ten times, and each time she would rewrite something in it. Her way of polishing writing was not to move on in her piece until she had got a page the way she wanted it, and to get it the way she wanted it, she would retype the whole thing over and over. It was an amazing way of getting inside the text that she was composing. That process continued until she was doing Scapegoat, because the only way to manage the huge scholarly citation problem in that book was to use word processing with footnote utilities. That book, which she worked on for nine years, was the first book she wrote on a computer. She wrote at night. She would start around 10, 11, or 12, write through the night, and go to sleep around daybreak. That was her writing rhythm.
B: Can you talk a bit about the reactions to her work over the years, what you've witnessed in terms of the ways she's been read and responded to?
J: Well, some of it was almost comic and bizarre. In the early days she gave a speech that had a line in it about how for men on the left, their political consciousness would begin in the place they most dreaded, a limp penis. Somehow those words limp and penis got attached to a slander that took on a life of its own. And it attached to me as well; the form it took was that I "hated erections." So we both got the brunt of a really, really silly slur that originated in a mishearing of something she said at some public event that was reported in the Village Voice. That thing traveled and traveled and traveled.
There was another level that was a lot harder to deal with and it had to do with pornography-industry-driven mischaracterizations of her. There was the time that Penthouse magazine sent a writer to interview her posing as a journalist for a Hebrew-language newspaper in Israel. Andrea gave the interview, and she was talking to me afterwards and said there was something off about the interview, it didn't seem right to her. Sure enough, one day I stopped at a newspaper stand after a jog and saw the current issue of Penthouse with her name on the cover.
There was also the attack on her that Hustler did that she brought suit for. The case went all the way to the Ninth Circuit. That Court said, in legal jargon, that she didn't have a reputation that could be defamed, because it was already in the gutter. There's a principle that you can sue for libel, or defamation of character. Any layperson looking at what Hustler published about her would say was defamation of character. But, the Court basically said: She doesn't have a reputation that can be preserved anymore. That was a pretty tough one to deal with. The mischaracterizations and flat-out lies told about her --- for instance by Nadine Strossen in her book called Defending Pornography. That's just a piece of crap, such a pile of shit. And Strossen is writing wrapped in the mantle of ACLU credibility --- which in my view doesn't have any credibility that can be defended, but a lot of people think it does. So I guess my point is that the attacks ranged from the goofy, corny, crazy, just bizarre to the really mean-spirited and wish-she-would-fall-off-the-earth kind of stuff.
B: How have survivors and feminists responded to her work?
J: So many women told her their stories. She was like a repository for hundreds, maybe thousands of women's personal stories. And I know that she saved hundreds, maybe thousands of lives --- through contact with her personally, in public events or speeches or through her writing. I heard some of those women give testimony about that at a memorial service for Andrea that I attended in London in September. I know that there were many women not just touched but saved. And I think it has to do with the fact that she really kept faith with the stories of the women that she carried with her, and never ever lost her focus and her attention on what had to change to make those women's lives safe and whole. And I think that she was really rare in that respect. The ways in which survivors have read her is a testament to the power that's in her work.
B: How was it for you to see her being attacked or vilified? How did you deal with that over time?
J: Some of it was just kind of like water off a duck's back, in the sense that it was predictable: Oh, there's that again; oh, there's that again. And then there was stuff that really cut, and really, really threw me. Some of the stuff that came at her from women was especially difficult, because at first I didn't know the capacity --- the self-hating anti-feminist capacity --- of women to kill the messenger who was bringing the message about their own compromised integrity. It was tough. I can't say it was smooth sailing for 31 years. I had some real bad downs with it. I had to learn ways of protecting myself from it. I know that sounds odd because she was the one exposed to it, but there was stuff that affected me more than it affected her.
B: Do you want to say more about how you handled that?
J: I just really got knocked out by it a couple of times emotionally. Which of course left me with no resources to offer her. But we made it through that. We had a real clear understanding between us of what was happening. It wasn't a mystery. She always had a clear sense of what she was doing, and what its worth in the world was, whether it got recognized in her lifetime or not. The chatter and the hostility and the distortions of her stuff troubled her to the extent that it seriously compromised her opportunities for publishing. I think that's what got to her --- that so much misinformation had been put out there that it was making editors wary of assigning her anything, or of buying anything. It was making people wary of even being associated with her. So to the extent that it curtailed her opportunities for doing her work, and in particular publishing, that's what hurt her the most. I think I was taking it in a different way, feeling utterly incapable of doing anything to shield her, to stop it from happening anymore, to rebut it.
B: You mentioned that she always knew what she was doing? Why do you think that she was so powerful and directed as a feminist? What made her that way?
J: Oh wow, that's the big question. I was looking at the walls of books in our house, and looking at all the books she's read, all the biographies of great writers and great thinkers. She read a lot about the lives of people who had extremely significant lives. I think she was trying to find out how others did it. I remember once she said how many of these lives ended badly, ended unhappily. But that didn't deter her from what she was doing. She really wanted to be a writer who made the world a better place. A lot of people start out wanting to be writers; it's almost a romantic ideal. She saw her work differently from that; she viewed her work as a serious mission. She knew she was doing something that others weren't doing. Not that it wasn't related to what others were doing. But I do think she saw her life's work as having a huge resonance. She didn't know if it would ever be noticed as such. She didn't know for sure that it would survive her. But I think she had a pretty good idea that it wasn't going to be until after she died that people would really understand what she had been doing all those years.
B: Why do you think she had the strength?
J: She really was an advocate for women. There are different moral leaders who have grounded their work in a solidarity with a particular group of people, a national group, an ethnic group. One looks at revolutionary leaders who have been not just spokespeople for the group of people with whom they were in solidarity but moral forerunners, incredibly brave in their single-minded conviction that what was happening to their people had to stop because it was wrong, because it was unjust. It's like where did Malcolm X's strength come from, where did Gandhi's strength come from? I don't mean to be hyperbolic with comparisons here, but structurally it's the same kind of a life, the same kind of conviction and commitment. And the strength came from the people with whom that contract was made, because one was of them. I think of Andrea's life that way. And it was so strong in her that even when women were being shits to her, she was still in solidarity with people called women.
B: Can you talk about her Jewish identity? Was it primarily cultural? Was she ever religious or spiritual?
J: I wouldn't characterize the Andrea I knew as being spiritual, frankly. I mean she had an identification with Jewishness, clearly. It's a very important theme in her work, and in her life. I think that she had respect for other people's spiritual lives, but it's not my impression that that was what was sustaining to her, although I know that she did pray. She told me there were occasions when she said she prayed and had some negotiations with God. I think of her negotiating with God rather than praying.
B: I'd like to know a little more about your relationship. What were your days like, what did you like to do together?
J: Oh, going to the theater, going to movies, going to dinner together, going for walks, going for picnics in the park. Having dinner with friends, and… oh, the cats; we always had pets. When we began living together she had a German shepherd named Gringo and a cat named George. Over the years we had other cats. When we moved from New York to Washington, DC, we had four. We spent a lot of time with them. We had a bunch of favorite TV shows we watched together.
B: What did you like to watch?
J: I can remember watching the sitcom "Soap" together --- and "Absolutely Fabulous" and "Will and Grace". There was a bunch we got into over the years --- "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" --- comic series that just became a hoot. We loved going to the theater. She listened to a lot of music by herself, country-western, for instance. She would listen to music almost all the time when she wrote. She had a bunch of TV shows that I was never interested in but she followed avidly --- "24," a lot of Fox News, Bill O'Reilly, "Law and Order," "CSI," those substantive dramas. For me TV watching was unwinding time. And for Andrea it was too --- although it's a little hard to describe "Law and Order Sex Crimes Unit" as being time out.
B: You mentioned music. Did she have favorite singers?
J: Oh gosh, she had a huge collection of country-western, just about all of them. She used to a listen to a lot of it. She loved it. Also classical, Yo-Yo Ma, Bach. But there's just piles and piles of country CDs in her collection.
B: Can you tell me about the move from New York to DC? What caused you two to emigrate?
J: Well, I got a job in Washington, DC. I've been a managing editor of a bunch of national magazines, and I was offered a job at a magazine that's based in Washington, DC. It was a really good opportunity, and Andrea was all in favor of moving. It was a huge undertaking. We had a house that we'd lived in for fifteen years full of stuff that needed to be sorted through and packed and disposed of. Also Andrea had one of several surgeries, just prior to the start of my job. So it was difficult, but it was enormously rewarding, and she was really happy here. She really was happy here. She missed friends in New York but she liked the new home. She liked living in DC.
B: What made you able to stay together for 31 years?
J: Well, she knew me better than I knew myself, for one thing. There was never anyone that I wanted to be known by more than I wanted to be known by her. There wasn't anything I couldn't talk about with her. I figured out she was a great writer after I'd already fallen in love with her. And I fell in love with her pretty fast. Within a month or two of meeting her, I knew I couldn't live without her, apart from her.
It's hard for me to figure out what it was that made it work for her. I know she loved me, and liked me, and was proud of what I did, as I was proud of what she did. We used to joke that I was in charge of fun, because one of us had to be. It wasn't her métier, her thing, although she had a great sense of humor. I know I brought fun into her life. I also brought a fair amount of pain, because I fucked up, several times. But we got through that. We got through it stronger than before.
B: What made you two decide to get married?
J: Well, we were on vacation. Some friends had let us use a place in Florida. We went down for a couple of weeks. And I was sitting there reading tourism literature and I said, "Hey look at this, honey." There's no waiting period in Florida for marriage; you can just walk in off the street. We had been together 26 or 27 years. We'd always talked about getting married if one of us was in jail because of political activity, or in the hospital; in extremis we'd get married in order to be sure that we could see the other. That was the only context in which we'd ever talked about it. We were having a really happy time, we were really close, and we just decided to go do it. We didn't tell anybody; we just drove to the local whatever office, walked in, did it in front of a clerk or whatever they have down there, and then told immediate family, and didn't tell anybody else, basically. It was kind of a lark. It didn't have a lot of forethought.
B: You two have been pretty private about your relationship over time. How did you deal with the public speculation about your sexualities, about how you were together, and so forth?
J: We learned early on that we were like a blank slate that people were going to project all kinds of stuff on, and that really didn't touch us. We had a zone of privacy that we were very careful about, and whatever people were thinking was what they were going to think. That was real c'est-la-vie stuff.
B: Are there people you were close to who helped your relationship? Friends or family?
J: Oh yeah. Andrea had close friends that she talked to about our relationship. I had some. The time that comes to mind is kind of a silly story in retrospect, but at the time it was high drama. We were living in a fifth-floor walkup on the Lower East Side. The building had become infested with rats. It had very cheap rent and a lot of space, and I was afraid that if we gave it up, we couldn't afford something else. And I was committed to staying and fighting those rats, and mobilizing the landlord to bring an exterminator and try to kill them. Well, my strategy was failing, because the rats were there, running around. The landlord kept trying to tell us that they were squirrels, but we know they were rats because we found little dead baby rats.
I was really panicking about whether we could afford something else, and Andrea was determined that we had to get out of there. At a certain point she gave an ultimatum; she said you can come with me, or you can stay, but I'm leaving. Up to that point I had this perfectly reasonable worldview--it's really imprudent for us to move because we don't have the financial resources to get anything else, and we can fight this and we can win. I remember having lunch with a very dear friend, and I was telling her this and realizing what a stupid thing I was doing, and I just broke down in tears: What am I thinking? I love Andrea. I want to live with her. We've got to get out of here. She can't stand it. We'll get out of here. Looking back, it's like how could I be so dumb? But I was. Dumb. I think of that friend telling me exactly what I needed to hear at the time, talking sense into me, or helping me discover the sense I hadn't figured out for myself.
B: How did Andrea influence your own writing and political goals?
J: Well, when I said she knew me better than I knew myself, I think she saw value in my writing that I didn't see myself, and kept me mindful, by reminding me, of the value in it that she saw. I know that sounds really self-absorbed, but it's true. It's the confidence I had to say what I was saying in my work. I had my share of detractors, and I was saying stuff that a lot of people didn't want to hear. It didn't make me Mr. Popularity in the gay movement. To the extent that I had any courage in my convictions as a writer, it was because of Andrea. She had that herself; she was that source of clarity and conviction unto herself. Mine was received; I don't really think I have it on my own. So to the extent that my work was anchored in a politics and also in a courage, it was because of her. My first book was dedicated to her, to Andrea, which means courage. And I think it's as simple as that. Going on without that was at first really hard.
B: I'd like to ask you about the aftermath of her drug rape experience in Paris in 1999. How did the two of you cope with that? What was happening for you both?
J: She had gone to Paris on holiday, to celebrate the end of a nine-year work project, which was Scapegoat. She called me and she told me what had happened, and I told her she had to come right home, but first she had to talk to her gynecologist. She was in a country where she didn't know the language; she knew nobody there. I said, "You've got to get the first plane back", and I got her the home phone number for her gynecologist. And Andrea called the gynecologist, whose only reaction was "How did you get my home phone number?" and was totally useless.
Andrea came home. There was a lot about what had happened that was still not clear --- memories that were not coming into place. She herself wasn't sure what had happened. I was looking for alternate explanations, because I wanted it not to have happened. I wanted a scenario that would account for the different things she was remembering, like the cut on her leg, which I could still see when she came home. I was trying to figure it out. "Well, maybe you were walking in a park and a bramble scraped you or something like that." "No, no, no, that couldn't have happened."
We went around and around the details of it. I know she experienced that as my not believing her. It wasn't until long after that it became clear that my trying to find alternate explanations was, in a futile way, trying to keep it from having happened. And there was a point at which she was telling me the story again, and she talked about after coming to, going into the bathroom in her hotel room to pee, and feeling the blood coming out of that cut on her leg, observing it. And I said: "The blood was flowing then?" And she said: "yes." And that's when I realized that the only explanation for that cut was what had happened to her. The blood had not clotted, it was a fresh injury. That's when I didn't have any alternate scenarios to propose. They were all failing. It became clear to me at that point.
Her health had declined during the nine years she was writing Scapegoat. Part of it had to do with, I think, the physical effects on her of immersing herself in atrocity. She had immersed herself in the world of pornography to write Pornography; that was bad enough. And then to spend nine years reading Holocaust literature. She had to do it, to finish that book. But it took a toll.
She used to go on long walks. I remember when she had the German shepherd she'd go walking the dog across lower Manhattan and back. She was always large, but she was very active. She would go for long walks, and she liked to go for walks in the park. She was doing that out in Brooklyn where we lived, after we moved away from the rats, in a neighborhood called Park Slope. But there were a couple of incidents that happened. One of them was broad daylight, the middle of the day near the main drag in that neighborhood, and this van pulls up and they tried to get her into it but she fought back, she fought them off. When she was talking with rape crisis center people after the fact she learned that at that time, men were driving around in vans, picking up women, putting them in the van and raping them and videotaping them. There had been a couple of these reported in Brooklyn that Andrea found about after the incident. That was a turning point in terms of her not getting the kind of vigorous walking exercise that she had been getting for many years.
At the time she was in Paris, she was taking walks. But after the drug rape in Paris, her health really took a turn for the worse, in terms of her weight and her vigor.
By the end of the year, I took her into the emergency room, it was Christmas Eve, I remember, because she had this painful burning swelling in her legs. And she was admitted, and stayed in the hospital for about four weeks, with what was diagnosed as a life-threatening case of inflammation in her legs, with possible blood clot complications. She was really sick She almost died. The very next year, at about the same time of year, she was back in the hospital for the same thing. And then there were operations that followed. Weight-loss surgery, knee-replacement surgery.
B: Was the weight-loss surgery to take some off the pressure off her knees?
J: Yeah, so that she could have her knees replaced. Her knees had become terribly arthritic. Her legs were failing in lots of ways. The rape was the beginning… she just never got better. She kept doing her work, she kept writing. But she had four or five major surgeries, and she just never had the vigor again, even though she had the spirit. Her spirits were good. But she was increasingly worried about what was happening to her health. I was too.
B: What was her medical cause of death?
J: Acute myocarditis. The words mean inflammation of the heart.
B: You were talking about the ways in which she never quite came back physically from the rape in Paris, and I wonder if you thought that was connected to the heart condition that killed her.
J: I know that her health just kept getting worse after that point. She never really rebounded. In DC, she was undergoing physical therapy, because her rehabilitation after the knee-replacement surgery, it was going okay, and she was off crutches and she was at the point where she was just on a cane. But then she had a relapse; a particular muscle in one of her legs stopped functioning right, and led her to lose the ability to lock her knee, so she had to start wearing a series of braces and was back on crutches. So basically what had been a course of rehabilitation and recovery from the knee-replacement surgery started to reverse, and her mobility became more and more problematic.
She told me that the physical therapist told her that the effect of extreme trauma on the body can include isolated muscle atrophy. He said that to me too when I spoke with him after her death. I think in her mind --- and who's to know she wasn't right? --- the trauma of the drug rape was still causing her such psychic distress that it had physical manifestations as well. I don't doubt that. I really don't doubt that. I saw it. I saw the course of it. I'm not sure I was connecting all the dots as it happened. But in retrospect, she really continued to suffer that drug rape. I used to think that because she was unconscious during it, that would make it easier for her to come through it. But it was just the reverse. Instead it was like a black hole in memory that kept filling with memories of all the other abuse she'd had in her life. That black hole was like a magnet; it just kept filling with other abuse memories. So she had a lot of psychic distress after that. Horrible nightmares.
B: How were you dealing with that time --- the years between the rape and her death?
J: Not well at times. I didn't understand what the aftermath of that kind of rape is typically. I didn't know what I should be expecting or paying attention to. There was a sense in which I wasn't there for her. We came through it. But it was really a tough, rough patch in the relationship. I don't want people to think that Mr. Anti-rape, Mr. Pro-feminism was exceptional here. Relationships really, really suffer in the aftermath of rape. I didn't have anyone to talk to about it. There was nobody I could go to and say: Hey, my partner's just been drug-raped, what should I be thinking about, what should I know about, what should I know to expect? I was really clueless.
For that matter, Andrea didn't know anything about drug rape. We were both in the dark. Back in her twenties, she'd been a battered wife for three years in Amsterdam and she thought she was the only one in the world. She was really isolated. When she was drug-raped, she also didn't know anything about it. She knew that there were drug rapes, but she didn't know anything that rape-crisis-shelter expertise would have told her. She did a lot of reading and talking to people who knew about drug rape after that. But it's a real common thing in rape survivors --- very self-destructive behaviors. Really, just the opposite of self-care. These are common patterns. I didn't know. We got through that hard time. But we almost didn't. The aftermath of the rape almost ended our relationship. I think she was ready to leave me. I know she was ready to leave me.
B: Why do you think you were able to stay together?
J: I don't know. We did. Just one of those blessings of the cosmos because there's really no explanation. There's really no explanation. I didn't want to lose her. I owned my behavior. We kept talking. If I think about what would have happened if she had died before we got good again together, I don't know what I would do, to live with myself. If she had died when things were bad between us, I don't know, I couldn't go on. I know that when she died, things were really good between us. She told a lot of her friends the same thing, that she was really happy, we were happy again.
B: What was she writing before her death, or talking about working on in the future?
J: She was working on a major project called Writing America. She was going to be basing each chapter on a particular American writer, Faulkner, Hemingway, Willa Cather, Richard Wright. And in each chapter she was going to explore how a gendered notion of American identity was forged through the writing of that particular writer. She finished one full chapter and I think a second, and she was reading doing research for that book up until her last day. She was determined to write the book even if it didn't have a publisher yet.
She was also prepared to write a book about Lydie England, the woman in the photographs from Abu Ghraib. That would have been a really interesting book because it would have involved all her themes--pornography, prisons, relationship abuse. She was going to look at the life of Lydie England through the lens that had been polished through years of work on all these other issues. That work had just gotten to the point of being a proposal, and her agent was talking to two interested editors at the time Andrea died.
So those were the two things. One was closer to her heart, the one about the eight writers. The other would have been a knockout sensation of a book. Whatever else is written about Lydie England and Abu Ghraib and the court martial, no one's going to see that life the way Andrea would have.
B: You mentioned listening to women talking at her memorial. Is there more you'd like to say about how people have responded to her death, or what people have told you about her?
J: Well, in the days after she died, I became aware of all these commentaries and tributes and obituaries in the international press. I stopped because it got to be too hard for me, but for a while I would go online and search her name in the international press and all these citations would show up. It was an astonishment to me how much there was. I was overwhelmed. I know it sounds terrible but I kind of had to tune it out. It was just too much. I couldn't keep reading it.
I remember in one of them Germaine Greer said the best way to remember Andrea would be to really engage her work. And someone at Oxford University in England took that to heart and is organizing a conference about Andrea's work. It will take place April 7, two days before the anniversary of Andrea's death. I thought, wow, that's a great thing to have happen. It should happen in this country too --- bring together people to engage with her body of work. A whole lot of people wrote me really nice things. I wasn't able to start answering that mail until about a month or so ago. I just didn't have the mental wherewithal.
B: How are you now? How have you been doing?
J: I'm doing well. I'm doing okay. Some friends who had lost life partners gave me good advice about what to expect in terms of mourning. It was really hard at first. But over time it got easier. Grief breaks in every so often, but not like it did. And I'm okay. That's what I want people to know. Andrea and I talked about the fact that one of us was going to die first. For anyone in a long-term relationship, it's something that comes up. And she made me promise that I would go on. That's the promise that's kept me going.
B: If you ever want to write about being her partner after the rape, there isn't enough helpful information out there for partners.
J: Well, I'm taking a baby step, in presenting on a panel at that conference, just to be able to go public and talk about her work. And this interview is kind of another baby step. At first I didn't think I'd be able to do anything like that. I'm still not ready to, but I think probably I need to write a book someday. I'm not ready, at all. But it's not seeming as impossible as it did at first.
B: As I'm sure that you must know, her death was hard for survivors who looked to her work, her writing, for comfort or strength or validation. If you were speaking to a roomful of girls and women like that, as well as some boys and men, what would you want to say to the people who didn't know her personally but are missing her?
J: Well, the work is still there. The words are still there, and they can be re-read and re-read. For people who found her or experienced her in public events and speeches and so forth, I think that's kind of an irreplaceable experience. But what she said and the words she said are still there, on paper, online. Her entire body of work was driven by a love for women, by solidarity with people called women, and I think you can tap into that source of solidarity, or that evocation of solidarity, at lots of different points in her work, in lots of different ways. It might be in her fiction here, it might be in an essay there, a speech there.
That uncompromising, unmovable solidarity is so despised. It's a fact; it's despised. Nobody's supposed to have that much solidarity with women; you're supposed to sell it out. Everybody's supposed to sell it out. Nobody's supposed to succeed, being loyal to women to that extent. Men don't get to be men --- that is, people born male don't get to be men --- till they show that they have sacrificed their loyalty to women. Women don't get to advance in careers unless they can demonstrate to the men who make the decisions that they'll sell out other women. The whole world is based on betraying the class of people that Andrea cast her lot with, and never changed.
For people who are survivors, girls and women especially, whose lives have been most ruptured by that despising, I think that that wellspring of love and solidarity is there in Andrea's writing. They can tap into it and they can see what it's like to really believe that women shouldn't be hated and hurt the way the rest of the world expects. At some juncture in your life you have to be able to say something disrespectful about women, something misogynist, you have to be able to laugh at the joke, you have to be able to mock women, it's a rite of passage, it's the keys to the kingdom. And Andrea said: "no, not me, not this life, for the sake of the women whose lives mine is indebted to and in solidarity with."
B: You've talked about the ways that she and her work have been misrepresented. Is there anything else you would want people to know about her politics and intentions as a writer and feminist?
J: What was most hated about her work, and what was most misunderstood, was that she was uncompromisingly an advocate for women as women, and in particular women on the bottom. The abused, the prostituted, the battered, the incested, and at the end of her life, the disabled.
B: You mentioned the conference coming up at Oxford. What else would you hope that feminist historians or biographers will note or investigate about her work and her life?
J: I think it's a challenge for a historian or a biographer to see her work whole, to understand its unifying themes. And I would want to say to them: Don't be like the four blind men in the room with the elephant, where one of them has the tail and thinks it's a snake, and one has a leg and thinks it's a tree, and so forth. It's really important for historians, for biographers, to see all of it. I say that as someone who's probably read most of it, and I can't hold it all in my mind at one time. I think I know what holds it together, but I can't hold it all in my mind. The challenge for students of her writing is to see it whole. Please don't run off and do a whole PhD on one speech, you know what I mean?
B: Is there anything you think she would particularly want feminist activists or writers to do to build from her work, beyond generally working towards and supporting justice?
J: There's a phrase, it's the title of one of her speeches"Resist, Do Not Comply." And I really think that she would like women to be braver than they're being, and not comply. And she would like men to do more than get out of the way. I think she believed in men being active allies. She understood that solidarity for women didn't have to come only from other women, and that it could come substantially from men. She really did believe that.
B: What are you planning to do on April 9 this year?
J: I'll be scattering her ashes where she wanted them scattered, at a location she specified in Crete. She lived on Crete for a while, and she wrote a story called "First Love" about that experience. It's a beautiful piece of writing. I reread it the other day, and it really brought clarity to me about why that was what she chose, and why I will do it.
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