Drunk on Ink Q & A with Ruth Franklin and “Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life”
Ruth Franklin is a book critic and former editor at The New Republic. Her book Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (2016) won numerous awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, and was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2016, a Time magazine top nonfiction book of 2016, and a “best book of 2016” by The Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, and others. She is also the author of A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (2011), which was a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Writing. Her criticism and essays appear in many publications, including the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, the New York Review of Books, and Harper’s. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in biography, a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, a Leon Levy Fellowship in biography, and the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism.
About Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life
Instantly heralded for its “masterful” and “thrilling” portrayal (Boston Globe), Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life reveals the tumultuous life and inner darkness of the literary genius behind such classics as “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House. In this “remarkable act of reclamation” (Neil Gaiman), Ruth Franklin envisions Jackson as “belonging to the great tradition of Hawthorne, Poe and James” (New York Times Book Review) and demonstrates how her unique contribution to the canon “so uncannily channeled women’s nightmares and contradictions that it is ‘nothing less than the secret history of American women of her era’ ” (Washington Post). Franklin investigates the “interplay between the life, the work, and the times with real skill and insight, making this fine book a real contribution not only to biography, but to mid-20th-century women’s history” (Chicago Tribune). “Wisely rescu[ing] Shirley Jackson from any semblance of obscurity” (Lena Dunham), Franklin’s invigorating portrait stands as the definitive biography of a generational avatar and an American literary genius.
SONIAH KAMAL: First author/book you read/fell in love with?
RUTH FRANKLIN: The first book I was truly, madly, head over heels obsessed with was Emily of New Moon, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s coming-of-age story about a girl who wants to be a writer. I even named two trees in our backyard after Emily and her best friend, Ilse. Emily was everything I wanted to be: orphaned, psychic, and an amazing writer.
To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?
Dirty martini (gin, obviously) with lots of olives.
A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?
It should be mandatory just to read, period.
Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?
Moby-Dick. Will I ever make the time for it now?
A favorite quote from your book J
Can I give my favorite Shirley Jackson quote instead? It’s the first line of The Haunting of Hill House:
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.”
Your favorite book to film?
Favorite Indie Book Store/s?
Shout-out to my locals, Community Bookstore in Brooklyn and McNally Jackson in Manhattan. I’ll never get tired of browsing in The Strand. On my book tour, I visited Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg and was blown away by their gorgeous building and huge selection.
The one thing you wish you’d known about the writing life?
Writing anything—a biography, a book review, an email, this questionnaire—takes at least twice as long as I think it will.
Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each book published?
I definitely found the process easier for my second book than for my first. But I wrote my first book with two tiny children and tried to market it while going through a divorce, so just about anything would be better than that. In all seriousness, though, one thing that helped with SHIRLEY JACKSON was that I connected with readers throughout the writing process via social media. There are a lot of Jackson fans out there, and it was fun to be able to share tidbits about my research along the way—like the barn full of previously undiscovered letters I was lucky enough to find.
Dog, Cat, Or?
#TeamCat all the way.
Favorite book cover?
Funny, this question gave me the most trouble of them all. I’m not a very visual person, and either book covers don’t linger in my mind or they become inseparable from the experience of reading the book itself.
Favorite Small Press and Literary Journal?
Last impulse book buy and why?
I’m embarrassed to say I impulse-buy books all the time. I just treated myself to two new cookbooks—Saladish by Irene Rosen and The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook—because I’m bored with all my food. I also just bought both of Zadie Smith’s essay collections to potentially use in a criticism class I’ll be teaching next semester.
Soniah Kamal is an award winning essayist and fiction writer. Her novel Unmarriageable: Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan, a parallel retelling of Pride and Prejudice and set in contemporary Pakistan, has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. NPR calls it ‘thought provoking and deliciously readable’ and People Magazine says “This inventive retelling of Pride and Prejudice charms.” Unmarriageable is an Amazon Best Books pick, a People Magazine’s Pick, a New York Post Best Book pick, a Library Reads pick and more. Soniah’s debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Award for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and is an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s short story ‘Jelly Beans’ was selected for the Best South Asian Short Stories Anthology 2017. Her TEDx talk is about regrets and redemption. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Catapult, The Normal School, Literary Hub, and has been widely anthologized. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia State University where she was a Paul Bowles Fellow in Fiction. She currently teaches creative writing at Rhineheart University and reviews books for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Soniah will be giving a keynote address at the Jane Austen Summer Program Conference (2019) and she is a Jane Austen Literacy Ambassador. She was born in Pakistan, grew up in England and Saudi Arabia, and currently resides in Georgia.
More Drunk on Ink Interviews:
Mike Chen: Here and Now and Then, a novel
Ruth Franklin: Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life, biography
Colleen Oakley: Before I Go, a novel
Emily Midorikawa: A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, biography
Shabnam Samuel: A Fractured Life, memoir
Elise Hooper: The Other Alcott, a novel
Anne Boyd Rioux: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, non fiction
Devoney Looser: The Making of Jane Austen, non fiction
Kristen Miller Zohn: The Currency of Taste- Gibbons Georgian Silver, coffee table book
Vanessa Hua, A River of Stars, novel
Chaitli Sen, The Pathless Sky, novel
Sonya Huber, Pain Woman Take Your Keys, memoir
Kathy Wilson Florence, Three of Cups, a novel
Sara Luce Look, Charis Books and More, independent book store
S J Sindu, Marriage of a Thousand Lies, a novel
Rosalie Morales Kearns, Kingdom of Men, a novel
Saadia Faruqi, Meet Yasmin, children’s literature
Rene Denfeld: The Child Finder, a novel
Jamie Brenner, The Husband Hour, a novel
Sara Marchant, The Driveway has Two Sides, memoir
Kirsten Imani Kasai, The House of Erzulie, a novel
Thrity Umrigar, The Secrets Between Us, novel
John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel
Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss
Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery
Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel
Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood
Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel
Tanaz Bathena, A Girl Like That, YA novel