Big Bird, Linda Ronstadt and Sally Field celebrated at Kennedy Center
‘The Wife’ author Meg Wolitzer answers your questions
Judy Woodruff: Now, it's a story about the complexities of a modern-day marriage.
Jeffrey Brown talks to Meg Wolitzer, the author of more than a dozen novels, including "The Wife," this month's pick for Now Read This. That's the "NewsHour" and the New York Times book club.
The book was the inspiration for the recent film of the same name, which earned Glenn Close an Oscar nomination for best actress. The conversation is tonight's edition of our arts and culture series, Canvas.
Actor: Congratulations to you as well, Joan. I don't think people give the spouse enough credit.
Actor: I give my wife credit. I give her plenty of credit.
Jeffrey Brown: In "The Wife," both film and novel, Joan Castleman accompanies her famous writer husband, Joe, as he prepares to accept a major literary prize. The story takes us through decades of their marriage and into some surprising behind-the-scenes secrets to his success.
Author Meg Wolitzer joins me now to answer questions from our readers.
Welcome back to you.
Meg Wolitzer: Happy to be here.
Jeffrey Brown: So, first tell us, especially for those who are not in the book club, not our readers, what were you after here?
Meg Wolitzer: Well, I was interested in the different ways that the world has treated men and women. And I wanted to look at that in the context of a marriage.
Jeffrey Brown: OK, so let's go to some of our questions.
Meg Wolitzer: Sure.
Jeffrey Brown: Let's look at the first one.
Dolores Crain: Where did you get your research and ideas for writing your book "The Wife"?
Meg Wolitzer: The story really came from the imagination. I mean, I love the invention side of writing.
Jeffrey Brown: Yes.
Meg Wolitzer: That said, I am a writer and I live in the world. I'm also the daughter of a writer, and my mother is a novelist, Hilma Wolitzer. And she's 89.
And this wasn't her experience at all. I want to say that off the top. However, when she had her first novel published, there was a review that said something housewife turns into novelist.
And she's made the joke that it's as if she was Clark Kent going into a phone booth and sort of turning into a superhero. And there was a kind of condescension in that headline. And I was interested in that.
Jeffrey Brown: OK.
OK, so let's go to our next question, because it goes to that time period.
Meg Wolitzer: Sure.
Jim Hession: Why did you choose the '50s for Joe and Joan to marry?
Meg Wolitzer: I was interested in it, having read Sylvia Plath and her letters from Smith and her journals.
I sort of felt that I had a sense of what it was like to be a young woman then. At least, to some degree I had it, from other things that I had read, and wanted to sort of give it my own pass.
But, beyond that, everything -- if you set it in the '50s, everything that you're trying to say could be set into relief. It's really happening in a big way, that kind of condescension toward a woman who was trying to write.
Jeffrey Brown: You know, one of the things that I saw on the Facebook discussion was a lot of a question about the difference between a film and a novel.
Meg Wolitzer: Yes.
Jeffrey Brown: In the novel, it's narrated by the wife, right, first person.
Meg Wolitzer: Right. Right.
Jeffrey Brown: The film, we're seeing Glenn Close.
Meg Wolitzer: Yes. I know. It's so different.
It was the first book that I think I wrote in first person in a voice like this. And it's a sort of strong, angry, funny voice.
So, when you have an adaptation made, you know, you kind of -- I at least say to the filmmakers, sort of go do your thing. And they really did a different kind of thing, while being faithful to the book.
Glenn Close, who is such a wonderful, brilliant actress, I think, so much of what she does, you just are watching it, whereas I'm saying it.
Jeffrey Brown: OK, let's go to our next question.
Jacqueline Haley: What research, if any, substantiates the idea that the wife wouldn't have been able to have been published on her own in the 1950s due to her gender?
Meg Wolitzer: I don't know that everyone would agree that she couldn't have been able to be published.
You can see the difference in the ways male writers and female writers are talked about. Women did publish, of course, but they were treated differently. The big important ones for the most part were men. I mean, and that was the way it was.
Jeffrey Brown: You mentioned your mother being a writer, so that goes to our next question.
Meg Wolitzer: Sure.
Jeffrey Brown: Let's look at that.
Wade Snowden: Glenn Close spoke eloquently at the Golden Globes about "The Wife" and how it related to her own mother's life. What would your mom say about the book and the response to it?
Glenn Close: I'm thinking of my mom, who really sublimated herself to my father her whole life.
Meg Wolitzer: My mother has only been supportive of me since I was young. And she didn't have that same kind of support from her parents. She grew up in a different era. And I grew up when I did.
And, in fact, I used something in a novel of mine that had happened in real life. I gave a reading somewhere, and during the Q&A, a woman stood up and said, "My daughter wants to be a playwright. What should I tell her? I know how hard it is."
And I said, "Is she talented?"
And the woman said, "Yes, very."
I said, "Is she burning to do it?"
And she said yes. And I said, "I think you should tell her that's wonderful. The world will whittle your daughter down, but a mother never should."
My mother never did. And that's really, I think, why I wrote this book and all my books.
Jeffrey Brown: All right, congratulations on the novel and film being made from it.
Meg Wolitzer: Thank you.
Jeffrey Brown:So, we will have more questions and continue our conversation online.
For now, Meg Wolitzer, thank you very much.
Meg Wolitzer: Oh, thanks for having me.
Jeffrey Brown: And let me announce our March book pick.
We're turning to a genre we haven't tackled yet, science fiction and to a novel that tackles very of-the-moment gender politics, in which young women have special powers. It's called "The Power" by British writer Naomi Alderman.
We hope you will join us and others in reading and discussing the book on our Facebook page for Now Read This, our book club partnership with The New York Times.