K: I was scared of the comp-lit people. They smoked clove cigarettes and were cosmopolitan, and I was just a messy slut who waited night shifts and got high quite often. I wrote a story about a fucked-up girl (basically, myself), and they measured everything about whether it was “realistic.” I found the workshop model terrifying. I still do. It seems to be about grooming and disciplining writing. And it’s measured by the mass appeal.
M: I was terrified of that too, the reaction to one’s writing in workshop. I would write short stories or not even that, just stories, fiction or not, and sometimes a friend would read it and be like, “This is so and so, isn’t it,” and I’d be like yes, okay, sure, but what did you think of the story?
K: I have young women writers contact me now, in programs, telling me that their work is often critiqued as being too like a diary or too “messy,” and I don’t think there’s often room for that in creative-writing programs. I think there’s more permission online in terms of that sort of writing — writing that is more openly hybrid, or autobiographical, or taking the form of the diary or the notebook.
M: There is absolutely, as you talk about again and again in Heroines, this constant social checking on the desire to write from life for women. And girl-on-girl crime within writing. I always felt that in college we were all just learning the rubric to hate each other’s creative impulses, to discipline them.
K: The big rhetorical leap I’m taking in Heroines is that the impulse to discipline the self or the excessive out of our literature, comes from modernism and is mostly about moral attitudes of the time. In modernism we see this happen more with women writers, whose work and behavior was often critiqued as being TOO MUCH. Too excessive, too autobiographical, and then, not literary enough. There was a simultaneous horror for as well as fetishizing of the feminine in modernism. And now, think in terms of how Sheila Heti’s book was often reviewed. I’m curious why our conversation about fiction seems to often pivot on how fictional a work is. If that makes sense."