In 1980 Janet Sternburg wanted answers to the question of why other women write and “how they see their lives and their work.” Thus was born The Writer on Her Work.
“It was a first,” writes Julia Alverez in the introduction to the reprint that was published in 2000. She explains. “Seventeen women laying claim to rooms of their own in the mansion of literature.”
In her essay, Joan Didion wrote, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Many wrote about subject matter. Mary Gordon was desperate not to be trivial or embarrassing. She wanted to be serious. She wrote:
“I discovered that what I loved in writing was not distance but radical closeness; not the violence of the bizarre but the complexity of the quotidian….My subject as a writer has far more to do with family happiness than with the music of the spheres.”
She writes that what she hears best are “the daily rhythms, for that is what I value, what I would wish, as a writer to preserve.” Commenting on this, she adds, “My father would have thought this a stubborn predilection for the minor. My mother knows better.”
Michele Murry, a writer unknown to me who died in 1974 of cancer, wrote in a 1966 journal entry: “Words, reading and writing, will mark my life no matter what else I do.” Yet she bemoaned the amount of energy and emotion that “goes to tiny, fleeting facts of daily life! How easy to sink beneath the weight of newspapers, laundry, report cards, supermarkets and all the rest.”
In writing this post, I discovered there’s more: The Writer on Her Work, New Essays in New Territory, Volume 2.