I am really pleased with this wonderful article about “The Book of Old Ladies” & my spring class Coming to Age with Mills students and elders from the Downtown Oakland Senior Center. I love its inclusion of so many Mills voices!
“The more I read, the more I appreciate stories in which old ladies not only survive the huge losses of their lives, such as divorce, death of a spouse, serious illness, forced retirement, or alienation from adult children, but discover undeveloped parts of themselves, sometimes defy limiting conventions and habits that no longer serve them well. Stories of satisfying lives after loss lift my spirits and affirm what I have observed not only personally but also in life writing—in journals, diaries, biographies, and memoirs”
Q: You write that as you grew older, “I began to look for plots that might help me map a possible future beyond the familiar fairy tale where the old woman is stereotyped as either the wicked witch or the fairy godmother.” How did you eventually decide to write this book? A: I have always looked to fiction by women writers to offer models of ways of being that allowed me to imagine myself and others in new ways.
I was invited to Guest Blog for “Read Her Like An Open Book”As I approached my sixtieth birthday, I began to notice that in the books I included on the syllabus for my popular course “Contemporary Fiction by Women,” none of the protagonists were anywhere near my age. Instead, women my age were secondary characters, mothers or grandmothers, usually included only because of their importance to the central character, a marriageable daughter or even a young girl. The older woman might be described in considerable detail, but only from the outside, through a younger person’s perspective. I was troubled by the stereotypes that seemed to categorize her as either wicked witch or fairy godmother.
Read an exclusive excerpt from the book in the Rumpus
“In her famous essay on fiction and the role of the modern novel, “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” Virginia Woolf claims that the task of the novelist is to catch in words the old lady in the railway carriage. This book is the result of my searching contemporary fiction by women for glimpses of those elusive old ladies who, a century after Woolf’s call for them, remain nearly invisible. Like Woolf’s Mrs. Brown, an old woman may sit in the carriage. Or she may sit quietly on the bench of a London park, like the invisible women of Doris Lessing’s novel The Diary of a Good Neighbour. She may sit quietly reading on an airplane, in a meeting, in the waiting rooms of public institutions. What does she notice? What does she make of the snippets of conversation she overhears? What is the interplay of present observations and memories in her mind? Does she enjoy the sun on her skin? Does she relish her flexibility after that recent hip replacement? Is she composing a melody or a poem as she pulls the needle through her embroidery? Woolf wrote that she never managed to tell the truth about the body, and I think most readers assume she meant the sexualized body. However, increasingly I think that fiction has often focused exclusively on the sexualized body rather than the embodied person as a whole. I looked and continue to look for stories of older women in which they notice not only their desire but also their strength, the beauty they apprehend through their sight and hearing, the life-giving breath that sustains them.”