Portrait of Elizabeth Reeder

Interview with Elizabeth Reeder – International Women’s Day

What is it about “being on the edge” geographically, socially, emotionally that drew you to the event? I enjoyed the attractiveness and danger in the idea of women on the edge. Being a woman is a risky business and it’s great to have a chance to talk about it and to listen to other women […]

March 2, 2015

What is it about “being on the edge” geographically, socially, emotionally that drew you to the event?

I enjoyed the attractiveness and danger in the idea of women on the edge. Being a woman is a risky business and it’s great to have a chance to talk about it and to listen to other women talking about it too. The discursive and roundtable aspect of the event is a real draw.


How do you feel about Women’s Day in general? How have you experienced it throughout your personal/professional life?

It’s a marker every year. Reminds us to keep gender equality in our sights and also reminds us that it’s something we live everyday. Personally, it’s also the day I met my partner many years ago and so it’s type of anniversary too.


Who are your favourite writers – female or otherwise?

Anne Carson, Ann Patchett, Anne Michaels (maybe I have a thing about Anne’s?), Claudia Rankine (poet/essayist), Angela Carter, Willa Cather, Jenny Erpenbeck, Cormac McCarthy, Gertrude Stein, Toni Morrison, Kent Haruf, Katie Ford (poet), and a few non-fiction writers: Eula Biss, Judith/Jack Halberstam, Rebecca Solnit. How much space do I have? Even making that list has made me quite restless for my next stretch of reading.


What was the first book you ever read (were read to)? And/or what was the first book by a woman you remember reading/having read to you?

Good night, Moon is the first book I remember with that bright picture of the full moon. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder or No Flying in the House by Betty Brock. This second book isn’t that widely known and it’s one of the reasons I’m friends with one of my oldest and best friends -because we both read and loved it when we were kids.. it’s about a wee girl, who feels orphaned and very unloved, who slowly realises she’s a magic princess because she can fly (initially just up/down a few stairs). There’s an evil cat and a talking porcelain dog. Every six-year-old’s dream, really. I remember wrapping myself up with blankets and sitting right up against the radiator and reading.

Do you feel positively about campaigns like “Read Women” that encourage people to read more books by women?

Absolutely. For a few years in my early twenties I read almost solely women and now it’s as if I have this completely different understanding of what is possible in books. The domestic as wordly. The possibilities of magic realism like in Morrison and Carter. And, more recently, one of my favorite presses, Graywolf, had an amazing year publishing smart, political and truly talented women writers in the essay form.


Do you feel a responsibility as a successful woman to mentor other, younger, less experienced women?

Yes. Both in a direct ways through teaching and friendship, and also by example (and so a bit more indirect). I’m really keen that who I am in public matches who I am in private. It’s maybe not a popular idea, but it’s essential to me (although I am not the most publically visible writer). At my dad’s funeral, loads of his friends and colleagues came up to me and told me how important he had been as a mentor forty years before when they’d first arrived in the city or in the office, and that stuck with me as something to emulate. Women need this even more because we don’t always feel uber-confident or secure enough where we are to say – yes, I have something to give younger/other women – but we do and we should. Making it a daily practice makes it a bit easier, and also we’re not mentoring perfection but the real nitty gritty of making our way in the world. Humour, self-deprecating humour especially, is important.


How do you feel about being called a “woman writer”?

I’m a writer. I have many facets to who I am and the way we separate out different types of writers isn’t always helpful – it can be ghettoizing and assumes that straight, white men are the norm and deserve that standarised place and I don’t agree with that. I’ll give a version of an answer I gave about being a writer who is also gay – it means everything and nothing to me and my writing. It’s who I am and essential, and it’s also not even close to all that I am or something that should limit the possibilities of what I do or how I’m perceived or the impact I can have in the world.


How do you feel about feminism? Would you feel uncomfortable about branding yourself a feminist?

I am a feminist and have always called myself that. I also carry Alice Walker’s notion of womanist along with me too. I believe strongly in equality and I act towards that as much as I can and as publicly as I can. Saying that, I’m a pretty private person and wary of social media and so am not the most vocal of people out there but I do also face equality and complicated interactions directly and indirectly in my writing.


What do you hope for the development of women in the literary world within the next 20 years?

That we rock it. That we are more visible, win equal number of awards, earn equal space as reviewers and judges, that our subjects and approaches are equally valued, and that we push, always push, to include the best writing out there and be clear that we cannot assume that we agree with the frames of what constitutes excellent writing/art because there has been a tendency to praise dead, white, western male authors and their predecessors and that’s not my reading landscape, nor what I think is necessarily the most exciting or the best writing out there.


Does gender influence your decision-making when choosing to consume art of of other media, like film, painting, etc?

Interesting question. I definitely seek out books written by women and I notice when films or programmes have a strong showing of women, especially in positions of power and influence within the creative process. I seek out art, films and literature by women, but not exclusively so. What interests me in all these forms (no matter who makes them) is an energy and verve, a riskiness to approach, an agitation and substance to the ideas/stories/form etc, and I am more drawn to work that is crafted and beautiful (and I know this is such a dangerous word). But what I mean by that is linked to work that moves me – this can include to anger and restlessness as well as to longing and to action. The ideas of a work compel me, as well as how they affect the form/structure/language of what is made, and that’s not fixed to a gender, race, nationality or age but more often linked to the detail and substance of the work and the room a work leaves for the reader/audience/viewer.


What are you most looking forward to with regard to the event?

Discussing women, risk and literature for a whole day.

You can listen to audio interviews with Elizabeth Reeder and the other writers involved in this event here.

Elizabeth Reeder is the author of two critically acclaimed novels, and her first novel, Ramshackle, was shortlisted for the 2013 Scottish Mortgage Investment Best First Book Award and the 2012 Saltire Best First Book award. Her short writing, including lyric essays, has been widely published in journals and anthologies and has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as stories, drama, and abridgments. Her writing often explores questions of cartography, identity, ambiguity and memory. She teaches on and co-convenes Creative Writing at University of Glasgow.

You can find out more about Elizabeth on her website and follow her on Twitter at @ekreeder.

Leading up to next week’s International Women’s Day event “Women on the Edge”, Christina from the Edinburgh office of Scottish PEN conducted email interviews with some of the participating Scottish PEN members. You can get in touch with her at christina@scottishpen.org