I first got to know this author's work earlier this year when the New Yorker ran a fascinating excerpt from her new book, The Bishop's Daughter, a memoir of her relationship with her father, Bishop Paul Moore. So I checked out her website where you too will see that she is also a poet, author/contributor to six books, and teaches in the graduate writing programs at The New School and Columbia University School of the Arts, and from 2000 - 2006 served on the board of PEN American Center. So there was a lot to talk about.
Do you draw a line between talking about the book itself versus larger issues that might come out of it such as gay clergy, etc?
I talk about whatever issues arise to the extent that works for me when I participate in conversations about the book. But the book is really what I have to say about the closet and the clergy.
Were you prepared for the input of strangers about all the various subjects the book brings up?
I don't consider readers, or anyone who comes to any of my events, a stranger.
Do you ever wish that your father hadn't shared the specifics of his personal life with you?
My father did not share the specifics of his personal life with me. The specifics of his personal life came out accidentally, and then it was my desire to know more about a person whom I thought I had known but whom I did not, as it turned out, really know.
Did you learn anything from writing about your grandmother in The White Blackbird that you could apply to writing about your father?
The White Blackbird is a biography of Margarett Sargent, my grandmother, with elements of memoir, but it is a researched biography, a portrait of her. The Bishop's Daughter is a memoir, the story of a relationship between a father and a daughter. I did learn from writing The White Blackbird a lot about writing a book, but writing poems taught me far more about writing The Bishop's Daughter than writing The White Blackbird did.
You said in another interview about that book, "It was a haunting for me in that my grandmother's life was a trap door I was certain I'd fall through. I felt sure that if I became creative, as I wished to do, that I would become alcoholic, promiscuous, manic depressive, in and out of mental hospitals, and a casualty of years of shock treatments." How did you manage to avoid this?
I said that in the context of a conversation about The White Blackbird which is the story of a woman who stopped painting on the brink of great success when she was about 40. I didn't stop writing.
Between your grandmother and your father, did you ever yearn to come from a less high-profile family?
The family I came from is the only family i know. I loved them, and was fascinated by them and my life. I can't say that i ever wanted another kind of family
What thoughts if any did your father give to you about marriage, before YOU went into it?
It was understood that one day I would marry a man I was in love with. I grew up in the 1950s. Then came the 1960s and my generation of women rewrote the rule book. I have never married.
As the offspring of a man of the cloth, did your parents put extra pressure on you and your siblings to behave?
How do you separate teaching time from writing time?
It's difficult, but I carve out the time, and I think of that time as a refuge. I also find that teaching helps me to articulate what I think about writing.
What poem do you tend to proffer when you encounter people who claim they're not into poetry?
I never 'proffer' a poem, but I do give people poems or suggest poets, depending on who they are and what our conversation has been. I might read aloud to them. A poem I like to give young writers and artists is 'Power' by Adrienne Rich which talks about creativity in a wonderfully metaphorical way.
You've written about the visual arts a good deal: how do you incorporate them and describe them without being too literal?
I think of art as part of experience and write about looking at a painting as I would any other intense experience.
When/where do you write poetry?
Often in bed, before going to sleep or right after I wake up. Sometimes in cafes.
You've written for the stage as well: what have you learned about which of your writing works best onstage vs. On the page?
I've written one play, which evolved from poems, and the act of giving readings of my poems.
Do you write any fiction?
What reading lately that you enjoy?
I just read a galley of the Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed, a very powerful book of history about Thomas Jefferson's extended bi-racial family. He lived with Sally Hemings for 38 years and had four children with her. He knew her mother and her brothers. They all lived at Monticello!
How does it feel to be the 213th person interviewed for Zulkey.com?