Best-selling author Sue Monk Kidd tackles gender, race issues
Best-selling author Sue Monk Kidd, the next notable woman to appear in the Voices, Inc. lecture series, looks forward to her trip to Portland.
"I actually have combined this speaking trip with my annual girlfriend vacation," she says. "So I have my three best girlfriends coming out and meeting me."
Kidd will speak at the Tiffany Center, 1410 S.W. Morrison St., at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15. For more/tickets: www.voicesinc.com.
She's the author of "The Secret Life of Bees," which spent more than two years on The New York Times best-seller list, as well as "The Mermaid Chair," the memoir "Traveling with Pomegranates" (written with her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor) and "The Invention of Wings."
The Tribune reached out to Kidd to get her thoughts on some topics:
Tribune: Many of your books have been about women. Why do you think it's important they be written about?
Kidd: This is such an issue close to my heart. Gender issues, issues of gender equality, feminism. I think women finding their voices, women's empowerment, these are things I deeply care about.
It also has to do with the fact that I grew up in the pre-feminist South. I think that probably influenced me greatly. The themes that I probably have written about more than any others are women, gender and race. I don't know why novelists tend to return to things over and over, but we do. It probably has to do with our history and the values we care about.
Tribune: How would you describe your approach to writing about women?
Kidd: In "The Invention of Wings," for instance, my last novel, that book was largely about women being empowered to find their voice. It was about finding their courage, and taking up their cause. It was about a woman in the 19th century who was the least likely person to ever become a women's rights advocate and abolitionist, but she did. She belonged to a slave holding family, but she somehow broke free of that and found the voice in herself to become an abolitionist. That kind of thing is still relevant. I want my work to inspire women to find that audacity and courage in today's society.
In "The Secret Life of Bees," I was very concerned with writing about a girl's journey toward healing, empowerment. The other theme I guess that's been really part of my work is also the women's community. How communities of women come together. (In "Bees") Lily found her resolution and life again through the community of women.
Tribune: You've had quite a lot of success in your life as a writer. What is your advice for women, or anyone for that matter, who are trying to make it in the business?
Kidd: Well, my success as a writer didn't come until later in life. I was 53. Before that I wrote nonfiction in my 30s, and I was an apprentice for a long time to writing fiction. I think sometimes I like to suggest that those who are wanting to be writers, give them the time to really apprentice themselves to the work and learn the craft and read just tremendous amounts and read at the level you want to write. ... If I had to say one thing to women who want to write, if I was forced to limit it to one word, I'd say "courage." Writing really is an act of courage. I see many women with an enormous lack of the boldness to put it out there.
Tribune: What was it like to work with your daughter on "Traveling with Pomegranates"?
Kidd: Oh, I loved it. It was the best experience. We discovered that it was such a rich experience for us, and it brought us closer together. People would say, "Are you still speaking now that you're working together?" We experienced just the opposite.
But I understand how that can happen. We wanted to tell a story as true as we possibly could. We had to struggle how to do it together, and there were some challenges, but it was probably the most satisfying book I've written.
Tribune: Did you ever have any serious doubts about yourself and your work? How did you overcome that?
Kidd: Absolutely l have. One of the stories I'm going to tell, in my address there, is about getting "The Secret Life of Bees" published. I mean, I was told this novel didn't have any potential at one point, so it can be very discouraging sometimes.
So, I think most of us have doubts sometimes, and I think writers are particularly susceptible to that. Anytime I start a new novel I wonder if I can do it again. This is maybe why I identified so much with my character in "The Invention of Wings," Sarah ... because she struggled with doubts in herself. She felt this enormous pull to put her heart and voice out there, but it was so intimidating for her and she ran the risk of being ostracized.
I identify with that in my own small way, I wonder all the time if I can do it again. You just sit down and write. You can't be overwhelmed by those voices. Those voices that tell us we can't do it; if it's just a tiny bit of that in us it's not so bad because it gives us something to rise up against and to prove to ourselves that we can do it. But we can be crippled by those kinds of thoughts. I've learned over time not to let them into my study and leave them outside of the door. Not write for others, even my publisher or even my readers. To just write in my heart what I want to say and leave it at that
Tribune: Early on, you wrote about your experiences with Christianity. Are you still religious? What's important about spiritualty to you?
Kidd: No, I'm not what I would call religious. I am quite spiritual. I don't go to church, I'm not sectarian, and I haven't gone to church in decades. But I have a real lens, a spiritual lens for which I see and feel the world. I think that turns up in my work quite a bit, too.
I'm more of an eclectic, spiritually speaking. But I have a real deep appreciation for my roots in Christianity. In some sense you might say I'm a cultural Christian. Spirituality is about our connection to ourselves and the world around us and to what is larger than we are to something transcendent. I think to look within ourselves, to understand that we have an interior life and that in that interior life is where all of our genius is, all of our abiity to think and dream to envision and create. It's such an amazing thing. We all have our interior life, we all have our particular ingenious in us.
I also think it has to do with how we relate to the world. Then, you know, what we might call god, what is transcendent, if we want to relate to that, that's a spiritual thing. So, yeah, all of that matters to me, and I try to cultivate that the best I can.
Tribune: What else do you still hope to accomplish?
Kidd: Well, I hope to keep writing until I drop over. I love the process of writing so much, and it's not so much about accomplishing another book. It's about investing myself in the thing that brings me alive. I hope that what brings me alive will have an impact around me. The other thing is I want to leave some kind of legacy. As I've gotten older I think more about that. I think what I will leave here, what kind of dent my life will make in the world. So I care about writing from that standpoint. That is my legacy, I guess, my writing and my children. So there's always more to pursue because what's inside of us is so generous.