Skip to content

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Anne Boyd Rioux and “Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters”

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series by Soniah Kamal author of  the novel Unmarriageable a parallel retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and set in contemporary Pakistan 

Anne Boyd Rioux is the author or editor of six books about nineteenth-century American women writers, including Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, which will be published on August 21, 2018. She has also written Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist,  named one of the ten best books of the year by the Chicago Tribune. She is a professor of English at the University of New Orleans and the recipient of two National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, one for public scholarship.

About Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters

Soon after publication on September 30, 1868, Little Women became an enormous bestseller and one of America’s favorite novels. Its popularity quickly spread throughout the world, and the book has become an international classic. When Anne Boyd Rioux read the novel in her twenties, she had a powerful reaction to the story. Through teaching the book, she has seen the same effect on many others. In Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, Rioux recounts how Louisa May Alcott came to write Little Women, drawing inspiration for it from her own life. Rioux also examines why this tale of family and community ties, set while the Civil War tore America apart, has resonated through later wars, the Depression, and times of changing opportunities for women. Alcott’s novel has moved generations of women, many of them writers: Simone de Beauvoir, J. K. Rowling, bell hooks, Cynthia Ozick, Jane Smiley, Margo Jefferson, and Ursula K. Le Guin were inspired by Little Women, particularly its portrait of the iconoclastic young writer, Jo. Many have felt, as Anna Quindlen has declared, “Little Women changed my life.”  Today, Rioux sees the novel’s beating heart in Alcott’s portrayal of family resilience and her honest look at the struggles of girls growing into women. In gauging its current status, Rioux shows why Little Women remains a book with such power that people carry its characters and spirit throughout their lives.

SONIAH KAMAL: First author/book you read/fell in love with? Why?

ANNE BOYD RIOUX: Betsy, Tacy, and Tib by Maud Hart Lovelace because it transported me to a simpler time of evenings gathered around the piano and afternoons roaming the outdoors with your best friends. I wanted desperately to go there. And ever since I’ve had a romantic attachment to the 19th century. Go figure.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Wine, preferably Sauvignon Blanc.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading? 

Little Women because we all need to read more books about women and girls and this one is the best for thinking about what it’s like to grow up in a female body and to adjust your dreams along the way.

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

Little Women—sadly I didn’t read it until graduate school. Although it did me a lot of good in my early twenties, I wish I had read it earlier, and I think it’s an important YA book, although it’s often pigeonholed as a book for little girls.

 Favorite quote from your book

This is from Elena Ferrante’s acclaimed novel My Brilliant Friend (2011).

Lila and Lenú meet every day for months in the courtyard to read Little Women together, “so many times that the book became tattered and sweat-stained, it lost its spine, came unthreaded, sections fell apart. But it was our book,” Lenú explains, “we loved it dearly.”

 Favorite book to film?

I’d sound like a broken record if I said Little Women, so I’ll say Pride and Prejudice. I loved the BBC miniseries with Colin Firth. I think I watched it twenty times, and I had the soundtrack on cassette tape. I listened to it while I was studying and writing all through graduate school.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

Octavia Books in New Orleans. They are amazing.

The one thing you wish you’d known about the writing life?

It’s hard to pinpoint one thing. I keep being surprised by it. Probably the most important thing I’ve learned, though, is that, as a nonfiction writer, I need to tell the story in my own voice. As an academic, I learned to let other people tell the story and to quote a lot. But I’ve had to retrain myself as I write for a general audience now.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

Yes, thank God! There are still many things to learn, though, as each project is different.

Dog, Cat, Or?

Both really.

Ideal vacation?

English countryside with a trip to London.

Favorite book cover?

I’m a sucker for the Penguin Classic black covers.

Favorite song?

“Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2

Favorite painting/art?

I’m quite fond of the art of Charlie Harper and William Morris

Any Lit Festival anecdote you want a share? A great meeting with a fan? An epiphany?

I love meeting fans of Little Women and hearing their stories of how they read the book to rags growing up. The most astonishing was from a woman in her fifties who recited Beth’s death scene from memory, although she hadn’t read the book in decades.

Recommend a Small Press and/or Literary Journal?

I’m not sure if this counts as a small press, but I’m very impressed by the books being put out by the New York Book Review Classics.

Last impulse book buy and why?

Becoming Americans in Paris: Transatlantic Culture Between the World Wars—because I’ve become fascinated with an American woman writer, Kay Boyle, who lived in France between the wars and actually stayed there until 1941, only leaving when she had to after the German invasion.

Soniah Kamal is an award winning novelist, essayist and public speaker.  Soniah’s novel Unmarriageable is a Financial Times Readers’ Best Book of 2019, a People’s Magazine Pick, a Library Reads Pick, an NPR Code Switch Summer Read Pick, a 2019 Book All Georgians Should Read, a 2020 Georgia Author of the Year for Literary Fiction nominee and more. Her novel An Isolated Incident was shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction and the KLF French Fiction Prize. Soniah’s TEDx talk is about second chances and she has delivered numerous keynotes addreses. ‘We are the Ink’, her address at a U.S. Citizenship Oath Ceremony, talks about immigrants and the real American Dreams, her keynote at the Jane Austen Festival is about universality across time and cultures and she’s given keynotes at Writers Conferences. Soniah’s work has appeared in critically acclaimed anthologies and publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Georgia Review, The Bitter Southerner, Catapult, The Normal School, Apartment Therapy and more.
She’s on twitter and instagram @soniahkamal

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 ZohnThe Currency of Taste- Gibbons Georgian Silver, coffee table book

Vanessa HuaA River of Stars, novel

Chaitli SenThe Pathless Sky, novel

Sonya HuberPain Woman Take Your Keys, memoir

Kathy Wilson FlorenceThree of Cups, a novel

Sara Luce LookCharis Books and More, independent book store

S J SinduMarriage of a Thousand Lies, a novel

Rosalie Morales KearnsKingdom of Men, a novel

Saadia FaruqiMeet Yasmin, children’s literature

Rene DenfeldThe Child Finder, a novel

Jamie BrennerThe Husband Hour, a novel

Sara MarchantThe Driveway has Two Sides, memoir

Kirsten Imani KasaiThe House of Erzulie, a novel

Thrity UmrigarThe 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 BathenaA Girl Like That, YA novel



No comments yet

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS