Judith Thurman has written on Yves Saint Laurent and Proust; on Colette, the French authoress who broke away from every mold of her time; on Vera, wife of Vladimir Nabokov; on designer Isabel Toledo; on Marina Abramovich; on “Lost Women”, forgotten by history and by media. She has read the work of hundreds of women who wrote in other languages, in other centuries and have submerged in the voices of women and their trades.
“I started my career in journalism at Ms. Magazine, in the 1970s. It was the first feminist magazine. I wrote about “Lost Women”–mostly foreign language European writers who were not well known to American audiences. I found a niche, in other words. I think that is something young writers still have to do”
Since she started writing in her own column in The New Yorker and in each and every one of her books, she has explored fashion, the underlying codes of clothing, and beauty. For this admirer of the work of Walter Benjamin, Emily Dickinson, and Elena Ferrante, us women have a unique to see the world.
“Women have a distinctive perspective and voice. In this respect, I would refer you to the writings of Ferrante, on the subject. She has a lot to say in her newly published collection of essays and interviews, Frantumaglia. That is what most of the text is concerned with. But the minute a woman’s voice is raised, the minute she becomes combative, she is likely to be put down. See all the commentary on Hillary Clinton’s “shrillness.”
Judith was at the Gabo Festival in Medellin, and after sharing for four hours with journalists of all Ibero-America, I asked for her email to send her some question about Elena Ferrante, authoress she talked about for a couple of minutes, about being a women in this field, and about the media coverage of this past election in the United States.
¿How did you land in journalism?
I started my career in journalism at Ms. Magazine, in the 1970s. It was the first feminist magazine. I wrote about “Lost Women”–mostly foreign language European writers who were not well known to American audiences. I found a niche, in other words. I think that is something young writers still have to do.
¿How hard was it for a woman to be a journalist back in those days?
Women a little older than I am, Nora Ephron, for example, have written about the way they were ghettoized at national magazines in the 1950s and 1960s,–consigned to “women’s” stories, rather than hard news, or even expected to make coffee. Newsrooms are still rather macho, and while things have vastly improved, there is still inequality. The New Yorker has also been criticized for not featuring enough women writers. That is beginning to change as the millenial generation overtakes the baby boomers. Women war reporters existed, but they were a rarity. There are more of them today. The women of my generation gravitated to cultural reporting, or to the reporting of women’s issues. This is changing, too.
¿Do you break with the traditions and roles undertaken by the women in your household and family?
My mother was a Latin teacher, but she was forced to quit when she got married! In those days (the 1930s and 1940s), at least in Boston, teaching jobs were reserved for male breadwinners, or for single women who were helping to support their parents. But even though she became a stay-at-home mother, she always encouraged my writing. I didn’t have or feel any pressure from my family to get married and fade into the obscurity of domestic life.
¿Do you think us women have a distinctive perspective, our own voice?
Yes, I think women have a distinctive perspective and voice. In this respect, I would refer you to the writings of Ferrante, on the subject. She has a lot to say in her newly published collection of essays and interviews, Frantumaglia. That is what most of the text is concerned with. But the minute a woman’s voice is raised, the minute she becomes combative, she is likely to be put down. See all the commentary on Hillary Clinton’s “shrillness.”
¿Since when have you been immersed into discussions surrounding women and their trades?
I have spent most of my career thinking and writing about the female experience, and the forces that shape it.
¿Why is it important to reconcile with the legacy or the life path chosen by our mothers andgrandmothers?
The feminists of my generation were reluctant to engage with their ambivalence towards their mothers. They focused their rage on the “patriarchy.” Ferrante, again, is very interesting, even radical, on the subject of the mother/daughter bond, and the “hostile love” it engenders, which for her is a source of vitality. This is a very fertile field. I think women have been held back, in part, by the fear of outstripping their mothers; and also by the difficulties of separation, which can be experienced as a betrayal.
¿How did the idea of writing the essay “Swann Song” come up? How would you relate the work of Yves Saint Laurent with that of Proust?
The reportage on Saint Laurent was assigned, but I welcomed the opportunity. It took about six weeks. Saint Laurent was deeply inspired by Proust, and the world of gay estheticism of the fin de siecle, but it’s difficult to compare the work of a couturier to the work of a great novelist. That said, they were both supremely talented, supremely neurasthenic French artists steeped in the world of the haute bourgeoisie, and fascinated by its codes.
During the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Festival, you talked about author Elena Ferrante and how, regardless of her pseudonym, you knew those stories had been written by a woman. ¿What is the strength of a writer such as Ferrante?
Ferrante has a radical new woman’s voice–we haven’t heard it before. It’s fierce, it’s fearless, it’s visceral, yet it’s also deeply intellectual. It’s steeped in mythology, yet also in daily life. It seems to come from a place like the womb itself: bloody, viscous, nurturing, terrifying.
¿What is your opinión on the research conducted by journalist Claudio Gatti to discover Ferrante’s identity?
I think Gatti committed a violation that is rather like rape. He penetrated the private and vulnerable space of a woman against her express will, and stole something precious: her anonymity. He set out to break something and perhaps he did. I fervently hope she will not stop writing.
Why did it raised so much controversy and why was it described as sexist? ¿What does the current race for the White House have to say about the media?
I can’t answer question 13 simply. The media have, to some degree, created, or colluded in the creation, of the Trump monster. On the other hand, how could they not cover his rise? The Trump camp constantly rails at media bias, and yet the media also have the obligation to ferret out the truth behind his lies (or Hillary’s, for that matter), and they have done that, although the reporting of Trump’s atrocious views and actions has not managed, as it should have, as it would have in the case of any other candidate, disqualified him in the eyes of millions of voters.
¿What are the stories that, according to you, are missing from the literature made by women?
A new generation will have new stories to tell. Stories that touch on the evolution of our fixed ideas about gender and sexuality, motherhood, solitude, and autonomy.