Monday, May 25, 2015

Vivian Gornick: 'Most people who are writing memoirs are not writers'

Now 79, the writer has a new memoir out, and has firm views on both that form and her other lifelong passion, feminism

The writer Vivian Gornick at home.
The writer Vivian Gornick at home. ‘If a memoir is to achieve literature, it has to have an organizing principle.’ Photograph: Mitchell Bach/Author
The first thing one notices about Vivian Gornick’s apartment is how spare it is. The walls are lined with tall bookshelves but there is little other element there by way of decoration other than some cat paraphernalia for her pair of tabbies. I have come prepared for the sight; towards the beginning of her typically lucid new memoir, The Odd Woman and the City, Gornick writes that her friends tease her about her “indifference to acquisition”.

It’s not really the result of anti-materialism, though Gornick is very aware of class and labour issues. “All my life I’ve made do with less,” she writes, “because ‘stuff’ makes me anxious.” Another thing this memoir records Gornick as failing to acquire is a live-in partner, but that is treated as a secondary question to her working life and to the city – New York – where she has lived this whole time. The whole book then serves as an implicit clarion call to her fellow “Odd Women”, a term she borrows from the George Gissing novel to describe her condition.

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