Wednesday, 17 June 2015

BLOG TOUR: Every Father's Daughter. A Q&A with Margaret McMullan

I was really excited to be approached about this tour, though I'll admit, I was also uncertain how much I would connect with this book, given the subject matter. Paternal relationships are not my strong suit. The man I grew up believing to be my father, turned out not to be but given that much of my experience with him was violent, and highly inappropriate, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. My father by birth is another story altogether. We found each other late in life and we are still very much learning about each other. I was pleasantly surprised though. I have so many thoughts to share on this book, and I look forward to posting them a little later today but I thought I would start by sharing a Q&A with Margaret McMullan first.

1. How did you decide which authors to reach out to for this collection?

In the last month of my father’s life, I read to him Alice Munro’s essay, “Working for a Living.” We had one of our last book discussions about that fox farm, the cold work, and the landscape of Canada. She was the first person I contacted. I wrote her a letter and a few months later she called and said yes, of course you can reprint my essay. I was just stunned. The other authors followed. I invited the authors my father loved or had met at some point in his life. He had dinner with Lee Smith once and she was so quick to respond. Lee led me to Jill McCorkle. I also included three former students. In the end, this collection of women writers became one big circle of friends.

2. How did your vision for this collection evolve from the start to end of this project?

At first I saw this as a collection of southern writers, men and women. But then I realized I just wanted to hear from women, daughters. I moved away from regionalizing it when I began thinking of my father’s literary tastes and what kind of man he was. He was southern but he was also very much shaped by Chicago and the Mid-West. Each time I read an essay, I would think, Would Dad like this?

3. What most surprised you about the creation of Every Father's Daughter?

I was surprised how difficult such a great collection was to get published. Jane Smiley had a Pulitzer, Maxine Hong Kingston won the National Book Award, and Alice Munro had just won a Nobel Prize. I felt this book was no-proof. Who wouldn’t want to read these writers on this particularly personal subject? And who wouldn’t want to read about fathers? I’ve always thought this collection was a sure thing, but it was much more difficult to find a publisher than I had imagined. Apparently, anthologies were no longer fashionable in the publishing industry. One editor, who declined the book, has since contacted me to tell me how she genuinely regrets not taking it.

4. In your introduction, you talk about how this book was a way for you to grieve. How did you come to realize this?

This particular work felt meaningful because all along I thought so much about my father. I started soon after my father died. The work – reaching out to other women, asking for their stories, and then reading them was therapeutic because it reminded me that there are other emotions besides grief. After a while, after I organized and put together the book, after I wrote my own essay, my grief transformed. It felt less like sadness and more like love.

I have encountered so many readers who have read the book and want to talk about an essay, and then, inevitably, these readers begin to tell me about their fathers. A conversation starts. This book has a power. We are remembering our fathers, and, in some cases, bringing them back to life.

5. Did you come to realize anything about your relationship with your father as you read through the essays in this collection?

I knew from the start that we were close, and that a good part of that closeness was how we stayed connected through literature. Now, I realize exactly how close we really were.

Check back this afternoon for my review of Every Father's Daughter. See you then!

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