The New Yorker Festival: Interviews with Alison Bechdel, Atul Gawande and Raphael Saadiq
Read our chats with three New Yorker Festival participants to find out what to expect at their lectures.
Tue Oct 2 2012
Photograph: Elena Seibert
Cartoonist Alison Bechdel recently released a graphic novel, Are You My Mother?, about her relationship with her mom. TONY chatted with her about the book, and what she'll be discussing at the New Yorker Festival.
What’s your talk at the New Yorker Festival going to be about?
Subjectivity, mothers who wanted to be writers, my love affair with [psychoanalyst] Donald Winnicott, among many other things.
What was the experience like writing about your mother in Are You My Mother? versus writing about your father in Fun Home?
I thought Fun Home was hard, but it was a stroll in the Tuileries compared with Are You My Mother? Writing about my mom as she watched over my shoulder was much more difficult than writing about my father, who had been dead for 20 years.
When I read Are You My Mother? a few months ago, it made me seriously reexamine my relationship with my own mom. Do you hear that kind of response a lot from your readers?
I have been getting a lot of surprisingly heartfelt and intimate e-mails from people about their mothers. For some reason, I hadn’t anticipated that. It makes me feel like a therapist.
Your work is so intensely personal and candid. What kind of reactions have you gotten from the people who you feature in it?
Well, perhaps tellingly, I have not heard from anyone portrayed in [Are You My Mother?] since it came out. Even my mother has been pretty…um, mum. I ran everything I wrote by the various people as I was working on the book, and they said they were okay with it. So I’m hoping that no news is good news.
Do you think that memoir in graphic form has an edge over prose memoir? You did so many creative visual things in your books that seem to open up memories in such a rich way.
I do! Such a big chunk of our memories is comprised of visual data. I like being able to dispense with verbal description and just show a time and place. It’s very economical. Also, graphic storytelling allows me to tell a more complicated, nonchronological story than I could manage in prose.
The Public Theater is premiering a musical-theater version of Fun Home in a few weeks. How did that come about? Did you ever think that your work would end up getting adapted in that way?
Honestly, when I was first approached about the musical, I thought it was a crazy idea. I don’t know much about musicals; it’s not a form I have ever been very interested in. So it has been all the more astonishing to see [writer and lyricist] Lisa Kron, [composer] Jeanine Tesori and [director] Sam Gold turn my book into something remarkable. Of course, I have zero objectivity, but I feel like they’ve managed to transpose my story into this very different medium while retaining its essence in a way that feels profoundly authentic.
“Drawn from Life,” featuring Alison Bechdel in conversation with Judith Thurman, happens Oct 6 at the SVA Theatre (333 W 23rd St between Eighth and Ninth Aves; newyorker.com/festival; 4pm; $30). Fun Home, presented by Public Lab, premieres at the Public Theater (425 Lafayette St between Astor Pl and E 4th St; publictheater.org; Oct 17–Nov 4; $15, members $12).