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 the Blog Here
Thank you Bill Wolfe for the invitation!
I just finished teaching the final course of my 46 years at Mills College–“Coming to Age,” a collaboration between 18 students and about twice that many members of the Downtown Oakland Senior Center. Jennifer King, Director of the DOSC and a Mills alumna, helped create a format that fit the schedule of the center’s members and also worked for students.
We planned to meet together four of the sixteen class sessions, once monthly from February through May. The seniors created plans for an additional session and chartered a bus to Mills, but Covid 19 forced us to cancel, and we met for the second half of the semester on Zoom.
We read selected stories I feature in my forthcoming book, The Book of Old Ladies: Celebrating Women of a Certain Age in Fiction. We loved comparing our responses in animated discussions in person and on the course blog. Not only did students disagree among themselves, but seniors also noticed details the students had overlooked, and everyone brought lively insights to our conversations.
But, now the course has ended. Although I have been asked to continue the course, I can’t create that same magic again. Instead, I look forward to opening shared reading and discussion to a wider group, using this blog as a space to share my reflections and my interviews and other relevant content
I hope that eventually the blog provides a public space in which to move beyond The Book of Old Ladies and the spring course into conversations that introduce additional stories of women of a certain age–primarily, but not exclusively, in fiction. Some of those stories fall outside the structure of my book, others I have discovered since, and still others are only now being written. After years in which I could not find stories focused on the present lives of older women characters–not just their pasts–I am excited to introduce stories that move beyond what I have come to call “mini appearances of old women as secondary characters” or “death-bed bookends” to engaging stories that get inside the heads of old women, see the world through their eyes, and abandon tired old stereotypes.
I invite you to read along with me.
Please share your ideas and discoveries of Notable Old Ladies in Fiction and Beyond!