Rebecca Traister is the author of the recent New York Times Best Seller All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. She is a writer at large for New York magazine and a contributing editor at Elle. Traister has been a National Magazine Award Finalist, writing about women in politics, media, and entertainment for The New Republic, Salon, The Nation, The New York Observer, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. Big Girls Don’t Cry, Traister’s first book, about Hillary Clinton and the 2008 presidential election, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2010 and the winner of Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book prize. Anne Lamott, another non-man writer of nonfiction, describes Traister as “the most brilliant voice on feminism in the country.”
EB: What first drew you to nonfiction? Has it always been your genre?
RT: I’ve never written fiction. I was trained as a journalist—though I didn’t go to journalism school. In the late 90s, when I got out of college, I worked as an assistant to the actor Harvey Keitel. I got my second job, which was the assistant at a magazine, which I found because I had a Hollywood connection—Talk magazine was published by a movie producer, and I heard about the job through my work for Keitel. Talk was edited by Tina Brown, and while I was there, I met journalists and editors who recommended me for a job at the New York Observer. That’s where I learned to be a journalist and trained to be a reporter. First I was encouraged to learn just the mechanics of journalism: on the record, off the record, meeting deadlines, picking up the phone, gathering information, fact-checking. As I grew as a reporter, and once I had learned to get the facts down, I was encouraged to develop more of an opinionated voice.
Do you ever wonder what lesbians do in the bedroom? So do all lesbians, apparently. That’s why Anna Pulley, a writer and sex columnist, wrote a book of haiku about contemporary lesbian relationships. With illustrations of cats, of course! We asked her a few questions.
Haiku seems to be the only poetic form that you can create almost by accident. You might say something and your friend goes, “Wait, that’s a haiku!” Whereas you would never say something and your friend goes, “Wait, that’s a Petrarchan sonnet!” How many of the haiku in your book were happy accidents?
Surprisingly, not very many! I think after the book was done, I had more of those moments, because my mind was operating in a very haiku-ish way (and still is).
But certain scenarios definitely lent themselves to easily becoming haiku. For instance, there’s one about how a lesbian says she can’t go out with you because she’s performing long-distance reiki on a cat. And that came about because a friend of mine actually did perform long-distance reiki on a cat. So in that instance, it was just about giving the haiku a slight modification and letting ‘er fly.
Meghan Daum has written two popular essay collections, My Misspent Youth (Open City Books, 2001) and The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion (FSG, 2014), which won the 2015 PEN Center USA Award for creative nonfiction. Daum has also written a novel, The Quality of Life Report (Viking, 2003) and a memoir, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House (Knopf, 2010). She is the editor of the New York Times bestselling essay anthology Selfish, Shallow & Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not To Have Kids (Picador, 2015).
In addition to her books, Daum has been an opinion columnist at The Los Angeles Times for over a decade, covering cultural and political topics. She has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, and Vogue, among others. Daum is the recipient of a 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship and a 2016 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and is an adjunct associate professor in the MFA Writing Program at Columbia University’s School of the Arts.
EB: First things first: how did you begin writing nonfiction? Continue reading