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No Women In ‘Canon’

Because Men Define It

By JENNIFER HILL • Special to

Erica Jong at a dinner during last weekend’s Sharon Springs Poetry Festival.

SHARON SPRINGS  – Why women shop in Bloomingdale’s, witches and telling the truth through poetry were just a few of the topics discussed in “Erica Jong in Conversation with Jean Hanff Korelitz” at the Roseboro Hotel last Saturday, the final event of the Sharon Springs Poetry Festival.

Novelist Korelitz, who lives here parttime, opened her “intimate talk” with Jong – and 40-plus literature devotees – with “Fear of Flying,” Jong’s 1973 novel that revolutionized views on female sexuality and has sold over 35 million copies worldwide, and how the two authors first met in 1979.

“I was 18-years-old, a week or two away from leaving for college, and my mother had taken me shopping in Bloomingdale’s,” said Korelitz, who lived in New York City then.  “I had read ‘How to Save Your Own Life’ that summer, not knowing it was a sequel to ‘Fear of Flying’ – I hadn’t even heard of it – and the book made a huge impact on me.”

She continued, “My mother and I are riding the escalator and I’m quoting a passage from the book to my mom about women who shop in Bloomingdale’s – because they don’t have two lovers named Jeff.  And when we get to the top of the escalator, my mother says, ‘Jeannie, Erica Jong is standing over there.’  We were gobsmacked.”

“It was synchronicity,” Jong said.

At her mother’s urging, Korelitz approached Jong to tell her how much her writing meant to her.  Years later, the two met again after Korelitz herself had become a published author.

“It’s thrilling that we’re here 40 years later talking about that meeting,” said Korelitz.

She turned to Jong’s lesser-known work, “Fanny,” which grew out of her love for 18th century British literature.

“I modeled it on Henry Fielding’s ‘Tom Jones,’ but instead of a baby boy dropped off on the steps of a stately home, a baby girl is,” said Jong.  “She is adopted by the family, raped by her stepfather.  It’s a ‘Me Too’ book.”

Fanny runs off on her horse and “falls in” with highwaymen, witches, pirates and others, she continued.

Jong’s research on witches for “Fanny” then led her to write “Witches.”

“I try to rehabilitate the witch and say, ‘Who was the witch?’” said Jong.  “She was somebody who could deliver babies … give women herbal things for the pain of childbirth … and naturally, people who believed women were condemned to suffer pain in childbirth hated witches.

“Witches were the pagans who remained under the surface in Christianity … they burned witches, but they did not eliminate them.”

Jong has also written poetry throughout her career, the latest volume of poems, “The World Began with Yes,” published in 2019.  Poetry, she said, was “a way of keeping in touch with what’s happening in your unconscious, which feeds everything.”

Jong also defines poetry as “the opposite of lying.”

“My publisher, Red Hen, has seen a burst of poetry during the current administration,” said Jong.  “We have so much lying going on that people want the truth.  People are hungry to read about what people really feel and what life really is.”

She and Korelitz also discussed the continuing dominance of men in literature and the film industry.

“Every age has had important women writers, who then did not become part of the canon,” said Jong.  “Why did they not become part of the canon?  Because men made the canon.”

The evening ended with Jong thanking attendees for their friendliness, warmth and “their genuine interest in poetry.”

“You’ve been here listening, participating, asking questions…just the kind of audience one dreams about,” she said.


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