“When you have kids, you can find yourself really interested in writers and artists who leave their children. It’s not usually about wanting to leave your own children, but about wanting to have your old self back.
Author & biographer Julie Phillips joins the show to celebrate her amazing new book, The Baby on the Fire Escape: Creativity, Motherhood, and the Mind-Baby Problem (WW Norton). We get into the tensions of being a mother & having a life in the arts and how that mirrors the Hero’s Journey, the definitions of motherhood and how women’s roles changed in the 20th century (and what’s different (and not) in the 21st century), how she chose the mother/artists she focused on in the book, like Alice Neel, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Angela Carter, and the challenges of writing about African-American subjects like Audre Lorde and Alice Walker. We also talk about what it means to consider motherhood as interrupted consciousness, which artist/mother she came to love more than she expected & which one frustrated her the most, how her bio of James Tiptree/Alice Sheldon led to her next book, a biography of Ursula K. Le Guin, why motherhood gets short shrift from most areas of theory, and more. Give it a listen! And go read The Baby on the Fire Escape!
“Motherhood had taken up such a large place in all my subjects’ hearts and their souls and their selves and their daily lives. They all felt lost for a while. They all had the search.”
“As soon as you tell the story of someone’s life, then you can imagine your own life having a story. If you tell a maternal life-story, then you can believe that there is a maternal life-story.”
About our Guest
Julie Phillips is the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon and The Baby on the Fire Escape: Creativity, Motherhood, and the Mind-Baby Problem. A biographer and critic fascinated by questions of gender and creative work, she has written for many publications including 4Columns, LitHub, and The New Yorker. The recipient of a Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant, she lives in Amsterdam with her partner and their two children. She’s working on a biography of Ursula K. Le Guin.
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 Julie by Chris Van Houts. It’s on my instagram.
This is one of those Must-Hear episodes of The Virtual Memories Show, people! I know I love all my kids, but I admit this one’s pretty special; give it a few minutes and you’ll understand why.
“What I’m passing on to people is . . . the capacity to have fun. To have a life that you can build around. Not branding, and not the demands of the marketplace, but what you really think and what you want.”
After a remarkable 40-year career, publisher Malcolm Margolin is retiring from Heyday Books in Berkeley. He joins the show to talk about the liberation of being unimportant, building a roundhouse to fall apart, the “dress code” necessary to make things palatable to a mainstream audience, his efforts to chronicle California Indian culture, his next act(s), and more! Give it a listen!
“In some ways I feel regret; the irony is that I was so active in preserving other people’s cultures and languages, but I let mine go.”
We also talk about the craziest golf foursome ever, the two-week-plus run of LSD that may have changed his life, his hatred of salesmanship (and environmentalists), the publishing revolution of the ‘70s, how we learn to live in a world bigger than our capacity to understand it, the inscription he’d want on his headphone e’d what drew him to publishing all those years ago (the beautiful women)! Give it a listen!
And become a patron of this podcast via Patreon or Paypal to get access to bonus conversation with Malcolm and a list of all the books we talked about! (Also, here’s a free bonus page of all the great quotes from our conversation.)
“I’m an emotion junkie. If I can go more than a few hours without breaking into tears, it’s a wasted day.”
About our Guest
Malcolm Margolin is an author, publisher, and the founder and executive director of Heyday Books, an independent nonprofit publisher and cultural institution in Berkeley, CA. In 1974 he founded Heyday with the publication of his book The East Bay Out: A Personal Guide to the East Bay Regional Parks. Malcolm is the author/editor of eight books including The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area, named by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the hundred most important books of the 20th century by a western writer. His essays and articles have appeared in a number of periodicals including The Nation, Small Press, National Parks, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Times. He retired from his role as publisher at Heyday Books this year.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the offices of Heyday Books on a Zoom H2n digital recorder (because I screwed up with my main recorder). I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photos of Malcolm by me.