Writer Ann Bauer Speaks up About the "Let Them Eat Cake" Privilege That Drives Publishing Success
NPR once did a This American Life radio show on the seven topics you're not supposed to talk about, based on how Sarah Koenig (you'll know her from Serial) grew up with her mother. That lists is composed of your period, your diet, health, how you slept, your dreams, route talk (how you got from here to there), and money. While first six are just considered dull, according to Koenig's mother, money is a different beast. Here's a quick excerpt from the transcript:
Maria Matthiessen: Although talking about money is considered, in certain circles, extremely rude. Not rude, just--Sarah Koenig: Vulgar.Maria Matthiessen: Vulgar, not done.
It's hard to argue with this point of view, that it exists. But writer Anne Bauer thinks that shying away from talking about money is harming the book publishing and young author community. In a piece for Salon, Bauer was forthright in saying her husband "sponsors" her writing career. He has a good, solid job, and that allows Bauer to work only part time for money and use the rest of her time to support her writing career. Her piece begins:
Here’s my life. My husband and I get up each morning at 7 o’clock and he showers while I make coffee. By the time he’s dressed I’m already sitting at my desk writing. He kisses me goodbye then leaves for the job where he makes good money, draws excellent benefits and gets many perks, such as travel, catered lunches and full reimbursement for the gym where I attend yoga midday. His career has allowed me to work only sporadically, as a consultant, in a field I enjoy.All that disclosure is crass, I know. I’m sorry.
Bauer goes on to discuss two other anonymous authors who sidestepped around their money and privilege when talking about their writing careers. She says that both authors have far more wealth and connections that she has, and yet they are hesitant to note this when they discuss how they were able to write and publish novels, while still supporting themselves. I mean, come on, you've heard about the struggling, impoverished writers, right?
The second author, Bauer says, went to prep school, then to an Ivy, then to Iowa — only the greatest writing program in the entire country. Her parents are famous on the New York literary scene who had elite writers over to their house for casual dinners, and she is their only child. But when an audience member had a question at one of this writer's readings, Bauer takes offense to the writer's response. The audience member had the same question most of us young, struggling writers ask: How did you get where you are? What do you attribute to your success? And the author? She claimed that the major decision that helped her success was choosing not to have children. Picking her career over motherhood. (I'll just let that sit there for our collective feminist heavy sighs.) Bauer had the same reaction we all likely do:
I was dumbfounded. I wanted to leap to my feet and shout. “Hello? Alice Munro! Doris Lessing! Joan Didion!” Of course, there are thousands of other extraordinary writers who managed to produce art despite motherhood. But the essential point was that, the quality of her book notwithstanding, this author’s chief advantage had nothing to do with her reproductive decisions. It was about connections. Straight up. She’d had them since birth.
Bauer calls this phenomenon the Marie Antoinette "let them eat cake" disservice to the writing community.
She aims to pull back the curtain on what helps writers write, publish, and succeed in publishing. And how poverty, chronic health conditions, and other circumstances can certainly put writers at a heavy disadvantage. And she's calling out other writers to forget the seven things you aren't allowed to talk about and talk, talk, talk about what money means in publishing.
I completed my third novel in eight months flat. I started the book while on a lovely vacation. Then I wrote happily and relatively quickly because I had the time and the funding, as well as help from my husband, my agent and a very talented editor friend. Without all those advantages, I might be on page 52. OK, there’s mine. Now show me yours.
And what's kind of awesome? Writers in all stages of their careers are totally on her side.
And at least a handful of these writers can co-sign her experience:
Here's hoping we can pull those doors wide open and showcase just how much privilege can affect publishing. And maybe it can lead to even more amazing grants, fellowships, and opportunities for people who aren't blessed with connections from birth, a trust fund, or a supportive spouse, and instead put the focus on talent and skill.
Image: angelaathomas/Flickr; Giphy