The Feed interview: Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl, a force of nature
Ruth Reichl, a force of nature.

The Feed talks to Ruth Reichl, editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine and author of the newly published Not Becoming My Mother, about women's lib, the Twitter-sphere and media domination.

The Feed: You just won two James Beard Media Awards. Your prolific output is impressive: a magazine, TV show, cookbooks, memoirs... So really, have you cloned yourself?
Ruth Reichl: I like to work. I believe that work helps us find our self worth. I'm in a place now with so many exciting things to do and I love them all. I saw my mother eating herself up because she couldn't do what she wanted. She and so many women of her generation sat around, frustrated with no outlet for their energy.

In your book, you write that your father's work "fed his soul." Which part of your work feeds yours?
What I like best is the challenge of learning something I didn't know how to do, going beyond my comfort level. When I came to Gourmet, I had no clue how to run a magazine; for television, I am fascinated to learn about editing. You know, Fox bought Garlic and Sapphires [the book chronicling her life as The New York Times' food critic] so now I am learning how Hollywood works.

You just finished a grueling book tour throughout the country. How do you find balance in your life?
My son Nick is now in college, but until he was 15, my husband and I never went away at the same time. I started going to writers' colonies when Nick went to camp. You have to prioritize and through it all, for me, the family comes first.

The pressure of finding Mr. Right plagued your mother, Miriam, until she met your father. In the '70s and '80s, women often delayed marriage and children to focus on their careers. Where are we today?
I thought my book was about Mom, but I learned so much during this book tour. I learned that many women who gave up their careers to stay home are angry about it. Also, others came up to me and said, "I don't want to be you, you work too hard." They want a career or children but they don't want both. And the truth is that our choices are bad. Most families have two working parents and we still don't have paternity leave. We need new structures, we need to look beyond the nuclear family and figure out how to help each other.

Your grandmother wrote to your mother after she had her first baby, "Now you are a real woman." In your opinion what's a "real woman" today?
A real woman is someone who knows what she wants. If you want to stay home, that's fine, but you have to be clear-eyed.

For years after she passed away, you were afraid to dig into your mother's life. Why?
I had made my peace with her, had gotten her voice out of my head. I had finally come to terms with my bipolar mother: It wasn't my fault and I couldn't fix it. I couldn't make her happy. So I was afraid I was going to meet a new Mom. And I did, but the discovery was that at the end of her life, she found out how to make herself happy, and that was the lesson. She is still with me now, but in a much better way.

How much should we reveal of ourselves to our children?
You tell them as much as they want to hear. My parents spoke openly about Mom's illness. You know, a kid's job is to study their parents and if it's TMI, they'll let you know!

What advice do you have for young women at the start of their careers?
It's worth it! If there's something you want to do, don't waste time, do it. Go for what you really want.

More than 10,000 people follow you on Twitter. How do you feel about it?
Friends of mine signed me up and in a way, I still feel I'm talking to my friends. It feels like a community. I wish I had time to follow more people, but I follow writers who speak about the struggles of writing, chefs who talk about their kitchens. I am a very sociable person, and as I've said before, I've always thought privacy was overrated.—Sylvie Bigar