Episode 425 – Vivian Gornick

Virtual Memories Show 425:
Vivian Gornick

“I’m a writer who developed around the practice of lucid, simple, compact writing. I turned out to be something of a minimalist. . . . but for a long time I felt myself a negligible writer because I couldn’t write big.”

Literary and feminist legend Vivian Gornick joins the show to celebrate her new collection, Taking A Long Look: Essays on Culture, Literature, and Feminism in Our Time (Verso Press). We talk about the biggest shock of looking back at her work for this career-spanning collection, why she organized it from most recent to oldest, and the difference between being smart and being wise. We get into the process of discovering her voice and figuring out she’s a minimalist, how she got better at judging her own work, her criteria for culling books from her apartment (and her embarrassment when one showed up in an unexpected place), the importance of rereading (and why she wrote a book about it), and why the New York Review of Books recently said she “has long enjoyed an audience of literary depressives and feminists”. We also discuss her 1970s essays on feminism, the movement’s evolution in the past 50 years, how the Brilliant Exception became the rule, why political correctness if different than ideological splits, the New York she loves most, and why she’s dying to go to a movie theater again. Give it a listen! And go read Taking a Long Look and Unfinished Business, and sheesh, all her other books, like Fierce Attachments!

“Our generation of feminists was unusual, not historically, but in terms of the lives we’re living now. Ours is the generation that raised it all over again. The generations that follow are somehow ground down because they don’t have that revolutionary excitement and energy.”

“If the thinking is sloppy, if it doesn’t justify itself, that’s the biggest shock in reading your own stuff.”

“Every year I go through my books and I ask, ‘Are you going to read this again? Are you EVER going to read this? Is this something I emotionally have to keep on the shelf?’

“If you have the talent and the drive — which are the least part of accomplishment — then if you live long enough and are privileged enough to become more and more yourself, then that’s the way the work should fulfill itself.”


Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Vivian Gornick is a writer and critic whose work has received two National Book Critics Circle Award nominations and been collected in The Best American Essays 2014. Growing up in the Bronx amongst communists and socialists, Gornick became a legendary writer for Village Voice, chronicling the emergence of the feminist movement in the 1970s. Her works include the memoirs Fierce Attachments — ranked the best memoir of the last fifty years by The New York Times — and The Odd Woman and the City, and Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader, as well as the classic text on writing, The Situation and the Story.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Vivian by someone else. It’s on my instagram.

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