“It Can’t Be Political Propaganda, but it is Political.” Curtis Sittenfeld on Crafting a Feminist Voice in Fiction
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
In this episode, Mitzi talks to Curtis Sittenfeld about her new novel, Romantic Comedy.
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From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: You seem to have in your writing over the years this strong feminist voice. And I’m curious how that came when you were growing up and does it feel delicate to bring it into your characters and to find the right register for that?
Curtis Sittenfeld: I do feel conscious that, like, sometimes people say, what’s the message of this story? Or what’s the message of this book? And I feel like if it’s fiction, it’s unusual for it to be reducible to one clear message. And if it is, maybe it should be an essay, or even just like a bumper sticker, it doesn’t need to be a whole book or a whole story.
So, I do think fiction has to have the texture of fiction, above all, it can’t be political propaganda, but it is political. I mean, every choice about what’s included or not included in any particular piece of fiction is a choice, even if it doesn’t feel like a choice to the writer. So, I mean, I think I feel like as I’ve gotten older, and I’m 47 now, that I’ve probably embraced having characters who are very opinionated and I know that some readers will find them very recognizable, some readers will find them annoying and that’s fine.
You know, it’s sort of like, that is a kind of person who exists. I mean this is a very broad generalization, but I think a lot of times as women get older—although it would be interesting to think about if this is generation specific—but a lot of women I know, who are my age, I think, feel more actively frustrated, or less patient with some gender norms that feel like they’ve existed for our whole life. Maybe we put up with them more at one point, or, maybe the election of Donald Trump brought them to the fore in this way where we’re just kind of blunter in discussing them now.
Curtis Sittenfeld is the bestselling author of six novels: Prep, The Man of My Dreams, American Wife, Sisterland, Eligible, and Rodham. Her first story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, was published in 2018 and picked for Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club. Her books have been selected by The New York Times, Time, Entertainment Weekly, and People for their “Ten Best Books of the Year” lists, optioned for television and film, and translated into thirty languages. Her new novel is Romantic Comedy.