The 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction goes to Jennifer Egan’s novel A Visit From the Goon Squad. National Public Radio has more on the novel and why it won. Entertainment Weekly has an interview with Jennifer Egan. Jennifer Egan also gives an insight into her writing process at The Wall Street Journal.
Upon winning the Pulitzer Prize Jennifer Egan was also interviewed again by the Wall Street Journal and unfortunately managed to not just play down plagiarism, but also insult chick lit authors in the process.
This is the offending passage, referring to the Kaavya Viswanathan plagiarism scandal:
There was that scandal with the Harvard student who was found to have plagiarized. But she had plagiarized very derivative, banal stuff. This is your big first move? These are your models?
This passage is doubly insulting. First of all, because Jennifer Egan comes across as stating that plagiarism is no big deal as long as you plagiarize only worthy books. And finally, Jennifer Egan also insults the authors plagiarized by Kaavya Viswanathan – mostly chick lit authors such as Meg Cabot, Megan McCafferty and Sophie Kinsella, but also Salman Rushdie – by calling them banal and derivative.
Now dismissive attitudes towards chick lit are nothing new. Unsurprisingly, they are particularly common among male writers and critics. Here is an example by crime fiction editor and critic Otto Penzler and here is one by critic Leon Wieseltier as cited by Maureen Dowd in a New York Times column (unfortunately no longer available online, but this link has a copy). Both articles are literally dripping with condescension and the main charge leveled against chick lit writers is that the writers are women and that these women dare write about subjects deemed frivolous by male critics. Still, dismissive attitudes by male critics towards female writers are annoying, but hardly unexpected. Seeing women like Maureen Dowd and Jennifer Egan getting into the act is harder to accept, because what do Dowd and Egan stand to gain by putting down other women writers?
Jennifer Egan closes the interview with the following bit:
My advice for young female writers would be to shoot high and not cower.
Because obviously, writers of chick lit, romance and other oft dismissed genres don’t try to write the best books they can.
However, it is possible to conduct an author interview without condescending towards other genres. Case in point:
Joshua Palmatier and Gini Koch interview each other. This is a very good author interview and not just because you get two authors for the price of one. Particularly the bits about writing without a synopsis/outline and inspiration struck a chord with me.