Female writers in spotlight New book explores issues of identity among authors

January 25, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Mickey Pearlman decided enough was enough after a series of 113 interviews with writers in The Paris Review included only 19 women.

"It incensed me," she said. While male writers were asked questions about memory, space and identity, Ms. Pearlman said, women were asked such questions as, "Do you have a country house and how are your children doing in school?"

That anger prompted her to ask some questions of her own.

Yesterday, at the Cover To Cover Bookstore Cafe in Columbia, she introduced her latest book, "Listen to Their Voices: Twenty Interviews with Women who Write."

The book is her second collection of interviews with female writers.

Like her earlier work, "A Voice of One's Own," this book represents a cross-section of women being published in the United States today, including Anne Rice, Maryland writer Lucille Clifton and British novelist Fay Weldon.

Ms. Pearlman describes her latest book as an outgrowth of "A Voice of One's Own," in which women discuss their identities in terms of their relationship to others -- as someone's wife, mother, sister, or lover.

"Those issues seem to have fallen away" in her recent book, Ms. Pearlman said.

Her newest venture tackles "weightier issues" such as religious, racial and ethnic identity in relationship to the outside world.

"This one is how to be a hyphenated person," Ms. Pearlman says of the writers, who are Chinese-American, Japanese-American, black, Mormon, Jewish and Pentecostal.

"I chose them all because their work was central to them but universal to all of us," said Ms. Pearlman, who hails from Cliffside Park, N.J. "It's both specific and universal at the same time."

Although Ms. Pearlman has written and edited many books about writers who are female, she says her work is for everyone.

"I don't think writers should be gender-defined," she said. "If a book works, then everyone understands it."

At the same time, Ms. Pearlman said, women view the world differently, particularly in terms of space and place.

"I'm very interested in women and spaces," she says. "American literature is about space, freedom. Women are metaphorically and literally in the kitchen. When you read about American women who are depressed, they get in the bed and they pull the covers up over their heads or they go into the closet. There are endless scenes in which women are sitting in the closet with clothes on their heads.

"Place is very important because it has a lot to do with how you see the world."

As she was writing "Listen to Their Voices," Ms. Pearlman said, she tried to picture herself as the quintessential reader.

"I saw myself as a surrogate for every reader, not necessarily every woman," she said.

Columbia resident Helen Ruther, who met Ms. Pearlman yesterday with four other members of a local book club, said she was looking forward to learning more about her favorite authors in "Listen to Their Voices."

"You're always sort of curious to read about them, and Mickey's books give us an opportunity to do that," Ms. Ruther said. "It gives the books a greater resonance."

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