Four Questions for Lambda Literary Trustee Award Honoree Jeanette Winterson
Author: Edit Team
June 3, 2017
The Lambda Literary Awards (the “Lammys”) identify and celebrate the best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books of the year and affirm that LGBTQ stories are part of the literature of the world.
This year’s star-studded awards will be held on June 13, 2017 at 7pm. The awards will take place at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place.
This year, Lambda Literary is excited to honor beloved author Jeanette Winterson with the Trustee Award.
Jeanette Winterson is the author of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit which she wrote at age 24. She’s written many novels and short stories, and received numerous awards for her work, including the EM Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She won a BAFTA for her TV adaptation of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. She is published internationally, and by Grove Press in the USA.
Winterson took some time to talk with the Lambda Literary Review about storytelling, patriarchy, and writing for a queer audience.
What inspired you to dedicate yourself to a life of letters and literature?
For me writing is the best way to entertain and educate all at once. Everything begins in our minds—the way we think, what we think—our unacknowledged assumptions, and our prejudices (we all have them), values (we don’t always have values, just self-interest), and our vision.
I take the view that art of all kinds is there to challenge us and to comfort us. This is not contradictory. Creative work pushes us—whether we are making it or receiving it—but creativity is the source of being human, and I always find that comforting. And then there are our favorite books, the words that have changed us. But when we look back at the things we loved years ago, we often find that as well as validating us, those works challenged us.
Listen, a life as a writer is about good luck too—and that includes the good luck of the time I was born in, and that English is a global language. I love what I do and I was able to do it, viably, in the world, from when I was 24. That feels like a good fairy was somewhere nearby….
Why do you feel that storytelling is an important endeavor?
Storytelling is as ancient as we are and more ancient than the written word. Words begin in the mouth before they hit the page. Children love hearing stories; we all do. And every time we meet someone we tell a story: “Wait til you hear this…you’ll never believe what happened today…. Have I got news for you…” We are hard-wired to create narratives.
Stories are more than facts—they are tellings and re-tellings. And above all, they belong outside the crazy 24/7 madness of getting and spending. We take time out for a story—telling it or listening to it, or reading it–whatever. We need an inner life. Not everything can be managed by what we do, where we go, the live/die of existence. As long as we have an inner life we need stuff that belongs to the inner life. And stories do.
Queer readers have really responded to you work, but when you are crafting a new piece of writing do you usually have an imagined audience in mind?
I love the whole of humanity and I write for anyone who wants to read. That said, I am proud to have been part of changing perceptions of what it is to be gay/queer, and proud to have written work that gay/queer people have loved.
Queer readers of all kinds are used to identifying with straight stories or straight characters—we don’t care! I can be Heathcliff or Aladdin. I can be Romeo as well as Juliet (actually Juliet has the best lines and Romeo speaks in clichés, so I am happy to stick with Juliet). As a queer reader I don’t worry about gender—god knows, we’d have had nothing to read, growing up, if we were worried about the gender and the story-line.
Straights, though, seem to think that if there’s a gay character or a queer story, it isn’t for them. It’s the way male readers often find it impossible to identify with female characters, and why men find it hard to pay attention to female characters, whether in books or in the movies—unless we’re talking sex or murder.
So really it’s a structural problem of patriarchy. Patriarchy is so powerful. And so boring.
Do you have any advice for emerging writers, particularly those who come from outsider communities?
My advice for writers is this: Creativity, like sexuality, is a spectrum. We all have creative powers and potential. Step back a minute from the work you are doing and engage with your own creativity. Do you want to be a writer all the time or some of the time? Where does your creativity sit with you? There is no one route.
Be excited and joyful about your potential. Think about what you want to say, and work hard to say it. But you need to pay the bills, maybe bring up your kids, all this fits together. Don’t see obstacles–see opportunities. And expect to cause trouble–for yourself and others.
But always remember that creativity is not selfish act—that’s some male shit about male importance—me and my art etc, etc, and some female cooking and cleaning in the kitchen. Creativity is a communal resource that makes everyone’s life better. Rethink all the assumptions—and write.