For appearances:
Wade Lucas at Penguin Random House:
walucas@penguinrandomhouse.com

For press Inquires:
Kris Dahl at ICM
KDahl@icmpartners.com

For information about Long Black Veil:
PR@randomhouse
rrokicki@penguinrandomhouse.com

To contact Jenny directly:
jb@jenniferboylan.net

Blog

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    Prick Up Your Ears

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    img_1275This is a speech I gave on the stage of the Haverford School in February 2017.  My title for the talk was, “Prick Up Your Ears,” although the New York Times called this “Let’s Bring Back Moral Imagination.”  In any case, this was quite a moment for me– because of course, I attended this school way back in the 1970s as a schoolboy (sic).  It was the honor of my life to be asked to give the Hallowell lecture, which has in previous years been given by Norman Mailer, Mary Gordon, and Donald Hall.  Edward Hallowell, after whom the lecture was named, was my teacher in 1975, a man who changed my life forever.  He was sitting in the audience, and I sent this out to him–and to all teachers– with love.

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    NECN: “Next Chapter for Trans Pioneer.”

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    IMG_2557 3Here’s a cool interview I did with New England Cable News after my speech at the Radcliffe Institute of Harvard in February.  “Pioneer” does make me sound like I’m driving a wagon train, though.  Although who knows:  maybe that’s a pretty good metaphor.  Equality?  Compassion?  Justice?  RAWHIDE! (whack!)

     

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    JFB at Radcliffe Institute of Harvard U. on 2/16

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Join me at Radcliffe on Thursday for a conversation about gender, politics, and imagination.  Will post link to stream in a week or two as well.  1-zkdawxxi21iqwgr9z_ax0g

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    “From Hell to Breakfast”: JFB on Where We Are Now.

    - by Jennifer Boylan
    Professor Glasses awaits a martini.  Ice cold. The drink, I mean.

    Professor Glasses awaits a martini. Ice cold. The drink, I mean.

    Here’s an interview in advance of my visit to Humboldt State University next week, in which I say, “Take my hand. Don’t let go. Don’t you dare let go.”

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    Author Evening with JFB for PEN–please join me!

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    PEN is hosting a literary dinner for me at the house of one Ruth Messinger in New York on 2/28/16.  It’s a fundraiser, so bring your wallet.  But a good cause.  More info available herejenniferboylan

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    I Saw Three Ships

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    15622662_10210385046918580_6375232326389155507_nEarly Christmas morning I saw deedie and the dogs out the window as the sun rose over the lake. And I pointed my camera out the kitchen window like this, and went Click.

     

    President Obama told us, the day after the election, “The sun will rise.” And of course it has, and does.

    I’m here in the Maine house having Christmas with my family, feeling lucky. But I know from reading other folks’ feeds exactly how hard holidays are for so many of my friends.

    I hope that the light that shines on me will shine on everyone in days to come.

    I’ll spare everyone my sense of faith. Let’s just say I think we should all love each other, and forgive one another. And yeah, I think those are about the hardest things to be asked to do, ever.

    Deedie gave me a gold chain for Xmas, which I am now wearing. And warm socks and warm shirts and the Houghton Mifflin Best American Short Stories 2016.

    I sang a few songs today. I jammed Do You Hear What I Hear into Cold Rain and Snow. I sang Arthur McBride and the Recruiting Sergeant (“I’ll cut off your head Christmas morning!”). I sang “happy Christmas/War is Over” and started to cry mid-chorus because I was thinking about a friend of mine who died this week, my surrogate father in law, David Busby. A man who liked to be in the center of a room quietly conducting the conversation with insight and with grace.

    Later Seannie sat down at the keys and played “Comfortably Numb.”

    I made a big-ass Xmas breakfast with scrapple and bacon and ham and fresh bread and minty potatoes I roasted yesterday and scrambled eggs. My sisters family FaceTimed us from England and I saw all my wonderful nephews and nieces now all adults. I took a long walk alone in the snow with the dogs, just looking at the cold quiet all around. The dogs paused before some tracks leading into the woods, but I pulled them back.

    I wish I could stand between the people I know and love and all the hurt of the world. But I can’t. I can sing a few songs and make scrapple and try to be an instrument for the love of God. But sometimes I am just a big dufus.

    My brother Todd Finney reminded me that the word for “Word” in Genesis also means “Story.” Which means that that book also might begin, “In the beginning was the Story.” If so, the story is still going on, and we are part of it. And some parts of this story are full of tears. And some parts are full of rising suns, young people singing songs, a quiet world with new snow, and hideous scrapple frying up in a skillet.

    As I walked down our silent road, I heard a neighbor bang on the window and I looked over and he waved. I couldn’t hear him but I knew what he was saying.

    Glory to god in the highest, and on earth, peace. Good will toward men. And women. And every one of you.

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    Couples in transition wanted for a TV show

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    tvGreetings.  This is a call out to couples currently in a relationship in which one member of the couple is trans, and expecting to begin transition soon.  I serve as an advisor to a television series that is hoping to find a handful of couples to participate in an ongoing series of programs on transition for couples.  If you are interested in being part of this, please make yourself known to me by writing via jb@jenniferboylan.net.   I will put you in touch with the producers.

    I will share with you the request that the producers have made to me for casting: “we need married couples who currently present as a heterosexual couple. The trans individual must have already told their spouse that they identify as trans (since we need to interview both of them), but ideally, it should be a fairly new revelation.”

    If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel a swiftly-developing sense of disappointment that the casting relies so heartily at first on hetero couples, and that transition is defined so narrowly.  I am using my influence as best I can to bend the show in the direction of something more diverse and less binary.  In the meantime, however, the request from the producers is what it is, and I am only a counsellor to this show, not the person or the network making it.  If you want to proceed, let me know and I will put you in touch with them directly and you can make your own choices, preferably with your eyes wide open.

    Sound fair?  Let me know.

     

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    A Letter to the Trans Community and its Allies, 11/9/16

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    A LETTER TO THE TRANS COMMUNITY AND OUR ALLIES, 11/9/16:

    sun-breaking-through-dark-clouds

    Dawn is breaking everywhere. Light a candle, curse the glare.

    Dear friends: For a few brief moments this morning, I was convinced it was all a dream. President Trump? Surely this was just the residue of some strange half-baked nightmare.

    But, of course, it was no fever dream. President Trump, and all the people who voted for him, is the new reality.

    I admit I spent an hour or two this morning staring out the window at the bleak bare trees here in Maine, feeling more than a little creeping despair. It’s a hard day—for me, for my family, for all of us.

    But on days like this people turn to allies and advocates for guidance. They turn to us for solace, and hope, and for our shared commitment to equality and love and inclusion—a commitment that cannot and will not be diminished by the events of last night.

    More than ever, our community needs all of us to fight. They need us to continue to find allies even within a hostile Congress and Administration. They need us to stand up for the people that now– more than ever– fear they have no voice. They need for us to be brave, and to redouble our efforts to create a better future.

    And so this morning I wanted to share with you all my belief that this is not the end of anything, but a beginning: a time of even greater devotion to our fight, a time to stand up for what we all know to be good and true.

    On her way out the door to her social work job this morning, my wife Deedie was saying, “I love you,” when her throat closed up and she sat down, her eyes filling with tears. We held each other for a while. And then she said, “Well. At least we still have each other.”

    Let this be true for all of us in this fight. We still have each other. And people in our community still have us.

    In 1980, when he was defeated in his own bid for the Presidency, Senator Kennedy said, “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

    Our dream continues as well. Today, we get back to work, with hope, and humor, and love.

    Sincerely,

    Jennifer Finney Boylan

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    Pre-heat party for upcoming LONG BLACK VEIL

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Walking the Earth

    • October 27, 2016/Belgrade Lakes, Maine • 

    image001I’m back home after a few days walking the earth. I was in New York earlier this week talking to reviewers, bloggers, and media folks in what they call a “pre-heat” for my spring novel, LONG BLACK VEIL.  This story of suspense, disappearance, murder, and changing identities begins in 1980, where six friends from college are goofing around inside Philadelphia’s abandoned and ruined Eastern State Penitentiary. Things get ugly when they accidentally get locked in– and also find that behind those walls they are not alone.  The day ends in a disappearance, and a presumed murder.  That’s chapter one.

    I love the cover, which shows a defaced John the Baptist by Leonardo.  John the B is a transfigured soul, male and female, earthly and heaven bound.  Wait, did I say transfigured?  I love that people will look at the cover and think,

    The drinks menu.

    The drinks menu.

    Say, is that a man or a woman? And I go, Hmmmm…

    My publishers (whom I will always think of as Random Penguins) invented a cocktail for the book party, the Long Blackberry Veil.  I also got to see my editor, Lindsay Sagnette

    My editor, Lindsay Sagnette.

    My editor, Lindsay Sagnette.

    (also the editor of Gone Girl, among other books) and my publicist, Rachel Rokicki, who has worked on every single one of my books since She’s Not There.

    After 3 days in the city I flew to Portland ME for a reading at Longfellow Books for the Bitch is Back anthology.  I got momentarily teary at the podium, the way I do.  Then I jumped in the car and drove the hour and a half home, where I found the dogs asleep and my wife Deirdre Grace awake.  I ate chili in bed and watched the last two innings of the World Series.

    The colors of autumn are on the fade up here.  But deep within my heart there dwells an invincible summer.  What about you? How are you doing?  Are you all right? Won’t you be glad when the election is over?

    img_1972

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    New Falcon Quinn Book Supports Anti-bullying Work

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    falcon2MONSTER UP with Falcon Quinn and the Bullies of Greenblud, just published!  All proceeds benefit Spirit Day 2016 and GLAAD’s anti-bullying programs.

    It’s available as a Kindle book here— and it’s also available as a paperback here.

    Falcon Quinn and his friends are monsters–a Sasquatch, a Chupakabra, a wind elemental, a Frankenstein– but now they confront the scariest challenge of all: 9th grade.  Disguised as humans, Falcon and friends are in a race against time to find five monsters hidden in a New Hampshire high school.  An exciting adventure as well as a serious look at what it means to be different– Falcon Quinn and the Bullies of Greenblud is a hilarious, moving look at bullies and the bullied, at monsters and humans, at boys and girls–and adults–of all kinds.

    You can learn more about Falcon Quinn at the FQ Home page.

    In the meantime, you must resist your monster nature.  You don’t want to be a monster.  Do you?

    MONSTER UP!

     

  • JFB.com Blog

    Hot Flash: What Would You Do to Prove Your Love?

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Or: Is it hot in here, or is it just me?

    via GIPHY
    It was the third time we’d been through menopause, the two of us, and by now we were sick of it.
    My first time, ten years ago, we’d been caught off guard. I woke in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat. During the daytime, I complained angrily about the sudden changes in the house’s temperature. “Don’t we ever change the batteries in this thing?” I said, meaning the thermostat.
    “It says sixty-eight,” said Deedie, my partner, with a voice that suggested, not unreasonably, that the problem was all in my head.
    I was forty-five then, and I’d only been female for a couple years. I knew that transition for transsexual women meant an ongoing experiment in endocrinology, that the ingestion of serious quantities of Premarin and Spironolactone would have dramatic changes upon my body. I had, of course, looked forward to those changes hungrily, had desperately, passionately, longed for them for most of my life.
    When people asked me what the combined effects of the estrogen and the testosterone suppressant were, I’d cleverly say, “The one pill make you want to eat salad and talk about relationships. The other pill makes you dislike the Three Stooges.”

    It had also given me breasts and hips, softened my hair and skin. Which was, you know. Nice.

    We’d weathered the transition together, Deedie and I. Then…
    a href=”https://medium.com/@jennyboylan_97964/hot-flash-c74dc108b8ee#.x3u2bifcg”>(read the rest of the piece at Medium)

  • JFB.com Blog

    Why Third Party Candidates Are Like Having Raccoons Live in Your Chimney

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    maxresdefault
    The thing about third party candidates is that, like love affairs, they are not unlike having raccoons in your chimney.

    I began my romantic life as a Republican, a long time ago, back when there were Rockefellers and Nixons, politicians who — crooks though they might have been — were still in many ways to the left of the current Democratic party. In college, however, I flipped over to the Democratic “lifestyle” — first behind my parents’ back, in secret, but by my senior year, openly, and without shame. I was all cued up to slip a ring on Jimmy Carter in 1980, but then along came Jon Anderson of Illinois, and I fell, hard. I knew it was wrong. But I was young, and…..

    (Please read the full piece over at Medium.com!) 

  • JFB.com Blog

    Where did the Orlando shooter learn his hate? Hint: It wasn’t Osama bin Laden.

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    The Source of 3195935035_12feecefefHome-grown Terror

    Jennifer Finney Boylan

    Donald Trump wasted no time. “Is President Obama going to finally mention the words radical Islamic terrorism?  If he doesn’t he should immediately resign in disgrace!”

    This was early on Sunday, as the country was waking up to learn about the massacre in Orlando. Fifty people dancing at “Latin night” at a gay nightclub, The Pulse, had been killed by shooter who, at that hour, had not yet been identified.

    The facts weren’t all in then, and are even now still being revealed.  But it wasn’t too early for Donald Trump to decide on the source for this tragedy. “I called it,” he tweeted, referring to his pledge to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.

    There are a lot of threads in this story: gun rights, terrorism, ISIS, Latino and Latina identity, immigration, and the endless and execrable campaign of 2016.  It is hard to understand this catastrophe without taking the time to understand how all these forces intersect.  The weeks ahead will give us the chance to learn more.

    But one thing seems clear already.  Omar Mateen didn’t learn his hatred of LGBT people from a distant cell of terrorists in Syria. He learned it on American soil.

    This was no foreign born terrorist who furtively snuck over the border, like those Mexican “criminals, drug dealers, and rapists” Trump has mentioned.  This was a man born in New York, raised in this country.  Whatever he is, he is the product of our own culture.

    We know that Mateen had been married, for a year, and that the marriage was marked by violence and abuse.  But we also know that he had used an app called Jack’d, a dating site for men.  He’d once proposed meeting a gay man for a drink at Pulse, the very club where he would later commit his atrocity.

    One possible narrative of this tragedy is that it was committed by a man who was attracted to other men, and who found it impossible to accept the truth of what was in his heart.  So instead he decided to destroy what was in himself,  by lashing out at his brothers and sisters, to destroy the lives of people living with an absence of shame that he could not imagine for himself.

    This was a man who had learned that it is better to commit mass murder—and suicide—than to accept oneself.  This was a man who had learned that the lives of gay and lesbian and bi and trans people are expendable, that his own life, if he was one of us, was not worth living.

    From whom did he learn this lesson?  Did terrorists in Syria send him telegrams?  Did the Taliban reach him by phone?

    Of course not.  He learned hatred of LGBT people, and of himself, right here at home.

    He learned it from a county in which 200 anti LGBT bills have been introduced in the last six months.

    He learned it in a country in which legislators have approved bills making it legal for any business not to approve services for marriages on the basis of religious objection.

    He learned it from a country in which in one state, people with female anatomy and appearance are legally required to use the men’s room, because of what might appear on their birth certificates.

    He learned it from a country in which, in another state, mental health professionals are permitted, if they so choose, to refuse services to gay people.

    He learned it from a country in which people like me, and families like mine, are blithely referred to as “abominations.”

    He learned it from a country in which the Lieutenant Governor of Texas—the second highest elected official in our second largest state—responded to the tragedy in Orlando by posting the message on Twitter: “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”

    He learned it from a country in which more than a third of transgender people have attempted to take their own lives.  One such victim, seventeen year old Leelah Alcorn, threw herself in front of a truck last year rather than live in this culture. “Fix society,” she wrote in her suicide note.

    The society Alcorn wanted fixed is not the society of the Taliban in the mountains of Pakistan.  The society Alcorn wanted fixed is not the society of the Islamic State.  It was the society of her home town of Kings Mills, Ohio, a state that has no protections for sexual orientation or gender identity outside of state employment.

    It was the society of Orlando, Florida, where a person who survived the massacre at the Pulse on Saturday night can be legally fired on Monday morning for being gay.

    On Sunday, just hours after the Orlando shooting, a twenty year old Indiana Man, James Wesley Howell, was arrested in California with an arsenal of weapons he apparently intended to use on an attack on the Los Angeles Pride celebration.  His car contained three assault rifles, high capacity magazines, ammunition, and a five gallon bucket containing chemicals.

    From whom did Howell learn his hatred? Hint:  It wasn’t Osama bin Laden.

    We cannot create a more loving and compassionate country by sealing our borders.  Hatred of people like me, and of my family, does not come from overseas.

    The fault is not in our stars. It is in ourselves.

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    “Am I Surprised? No. I’m Never Surprised by Evil.”

    - by Jennifer Boylan
    As part of a series of articles on the 1 year anniversary of Obergefell vs. Hodges, (the SCOTUS verdict that made marriage equality the law of the land), Steven Petrow of the Washington Post asked me these five questions:
    1. What’s your take on the past year when it comes to LGBT acceptance? Is it different in different regions?
    Professor Boylan outside of Burp Castle in the East Village, NYC

    Professor Boylan outside of Burp Castle in the East Village, NYC

    Things have gotten better. But they haven’t gotten better everywhere, and they haven’t gotten better for everyone.  If you’re a person whose only issue is marriage equality, or someone living in a blue state,  things are looking up.  If you live somewhere else, or if you’re a transgender person, especially a trans woman of color, things are as hard as they’ve ever been, and you stand a very good chance of being unemployed, or homeless, or being on the receiving end of violence.   And this cannot stand.  The right to live your life free of fear shouldn’t be dependent on geography.

    2. Have you been surprised by the backlash in general, and then more specifically, against trans people?
    It would be nice if the movement for progress were a nonstop flight toward a better world. But things never work that way. For every advance there is a new round of resistance.   If you think about Prop 8 in California, that tremendous setback came in response to emerging freedoms.  But that very defeat further inspired people to advocate for justice, and for love, and in time those forces carried the day.  But it takes time, and it means enduring a tremendous amount of hatred in the meantime, and it just breaks people.  Am I surprised?  No.  I’m never surprised by evil.  Those forces run pretty deep in human nature.  Fortunately, so do the powers of love and forgiveness.

    3. Why does there still seem to be so much fear of trans people if not antipathy and hate?

    Well our numbers are smaller, for one, so it’s less likely cis people will have a trans man or woman as a family member or friend, and it’s that kind of connection to oppressed people that makes all the difference in terms of recognizing our humanity.  But more importantly, trans people’s struggle requires a kind or moral imagination that many people find a challenge. What I mean is that straight people know what it’s like to be in love– so a movement based around the idea that “everyone deserves to love whom they love” is not a hard sell.  But transness isn’t about who you love; it’s about who you are.  And many people just can’t imagine what it must be like to find yourself in a body that doesn’t feel like home.  But they should try to imagine it.  In the name of God they should try to imagine it.  Because it’s a very hard life, and this vulnerable, precious community deserves love and kindness and understanding.  Instead of being turned into whipping girls and boys for people whose stock in trade is hate.

    4. What needs to happened next in terms of acceptance?

    Everyone needs to open their hearts and treat their fellow man and woman with love.

    5. Anything else you have to add?

    Well, just that I know that “open your heart and treat people with love” sounds like an easy thing to say, and that I recognize that in fact it’s not.  Treating other people with love is in fact the hardest thing in the world. But we can do it.  One soul at a time.
  • JFB.com Blog

    Love and Kindness are a Form of Politics, too.

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    My dear friends.

    I have struggled to find a path that seems loving and peaceful, politically, this year. I know people who vote across the political spectrum and I refuse to see anyone as my enemy. We are here to love one another, and that includes–for me– trying to understand and open the hearts even of people who wish me dead. And by dead, I don’t mean metaphorically dead, but ACTUAL DEAD, like the kid I met after a 13335837_10208505004918705_3134377357487735525_nspeech in Ohio, who said he thought people like me should be “exterminated.” I hope to find love in my heart even for him. Yes, even for him. 

    Politically my issues are closest to Sanders. Now that Senator Clinton is the presumptive nominee I will vote and work for her. I hope Senator Sanders, whom I love– and whom I once met at Bread and Puppet Theatre in Vermont –as well as his supporters–will put country ahead of self now. We should all criticize her, as Senator Sanders did, to make her a wiser candidate. But let’s talk like grown ups. We can criticize her without our eyes rolling back in our heads and going, conspiracy, Benghazi, Goldman Sachs, Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul. One part of the journey is over, and another now begins.

    For those of you voting for Donald Trump, I will continue to speak to you kindly, as many of you I have known for a lifetime. I hope that by doing so we can see each other as humans, and not as cartoon adversaries. I am certain that you will speak to me and other progressives like your fellow countrymen, and women, with the respect and thoughtfulness that we deserve. Won’t you.

    I will ask that folks take the stuff that comes out of Mr. Trumps mouth seriously. And hope that you will agree that racism and bigotry have no place in our country.

    I ask that we open our hearts to each other, to see each other as the vulnerable, imperfect souls that we are. And do what we can to move forward together.

    I guess what I am saying is that everything does not have to suck. Kindness and love are a form of politics too, and I think we should practice them, even when it seems stupid. Or naive. Or in vain. Then most of all, in fact. How else do we create a new world?

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    Russo & Boylan on Plot Twists in our Books and in our Lives.

    - by Jennifer Boylan
    RussoBoylan

    Jennifer Finney Boylan and Richard Russo at Colby College in 2003. Boylan is standing on a lower step to make Russo look taller; Russo is standing on a higher step to make Boylan look shorter.

    This podcast on Stuido 360 features two old friends: Richard Russo and Jennifer Finney Boylan, talking about the twists and turns in our life, and in our friendship.

    http://www.wnyc.org/story/richard-russo-jenny-boylan-everybodys-fool/

     

    Richard Russo was in his early forties when he published “Nobody’s Fool” in 1993. The novel focused on the residents of a fictional mill town in upstate New York called Bath, including Sully, who Paul Newman played in the movie version of the book, and his slow-on-the-uptake friend, Rub. Today Russo is in his mid-60s, and after all these years he’s brought Sully and Rub back to life in a sequel to “Nobody’s Fool” called “Everybody’s Fool.”

    Russo’s been friends with writer and novelist Jenny Boylan since they shared an office as professors in the early 1990s. But at the time, Jenny Boylan was Jim Boylan. She made the transition to Jenny about 15 years ago, and she wrote about it in her acclaimed memoir, “She’s Not There.” We asked Boylan to come in to interview Russo about his new novel and to talk with him about big plot twists — in their books, and in their friendship.

    Jenny Boylan: The relationship between Sully and Rub, it’s really as deep as anything in a married relationship. Did you find it hard to write about that kind of relationship? The relationship between friends, maybe particularly between men, I think is hard to write about.

    Richard Russo: It was a difficult relationship because on face value it seems to be one-sided because Rub really needs Sully for everything. But there is something going on there between them. Rub is a kind of foil, and maybe Sully needs Rub the way Don Quixote needs Sancho.

    That’s funny, I was going to say the way Dean Martin needs Jerry Lewis.

    Yes, both! And also I think part of Sully’s mechanism, the way he goes about life, is to ignore all obligations that are enforceable. So he leaves his family but what does he do? He goes and finds Rub, who becomes his surrogate son.

    Do you think that readers believe in some sort of fictional Richard Russo based on the voice of the man who’s telling them this story? I’m asking you this because even though I write mostly non-fiction these days, people assume that we’re going to be friends. I’m frequently running into people here on the streets of New York who want to know if we can go and have coffee right then. What do people assume about Rick Russo the author?

    I work really hard in all these books to create a better person on the page then I am in real life! So yeah, I think that’s what writers do. I think we’re never better than we are on the page. You write a book, and it takes you forever, and you make all kinds of mistakes, and then you finally figure out what you’re doing. And you go back, and you take out all of the worst mistakes, the ones that you can find, and you make it look like you knew what you were doing all along. That’s the final illusion. And that’s the person — that’s the Jenny Boylan that these people on the streets of New York want to have coffee with.

    When you see me now do you see the person I used to be, or do you see the woman before you now?

    I see the person that you are now. I see my old friend Jim in you, and I loved Jim the way I love you now. It’s for me just not an issue anymore. I told you at one point, after you had told me what was going on in your life and what your life had been like, and I said to you, it’s strange because there were very few people in my life at that point about which I would have said I would change absolutely nothing, and you were one of those people. And that is still true. But you’re different. You’re the same. You are my old friend, and you are my new friend. And none of the rest of it just makes any difference.

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    “Maddy Might Just Work After All.” JFB in Modern Love Podcast

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    ModernLove_1080x1080_Instagram_Episode13-620x620Here’s my piece from the Modern Love podcast, originally published in the New York Times some years ago, and now made into a swanky piece of audio. With new commentary from me at the end on our family, on “I Am Cait,” and on how having a father who became a woman helped my children become better men.

     

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    “A Twist in Her Plot” JFB in the NYT Book Review: Gender and Genre, Writers and Their Teachers

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    10AUTHORSNOTE-master675-v2I arrived at the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins in September 1985, bearing a box of books, a Kaypro word processor and a long blond wig I kept hidden in a box in the closet. I wasn’t out as transgender in those days, not by a long shot, but I did have the tools I needed to slip out of the house, once in a while, and prowl around Baltimore en femme. Then I’d head home, wash off the makeup and get ready for the workshop, taught by the writer John Barth.

    We’d been told to call him Jack, but it seemed impossible. Barth was considered an Olympian of literary maximalism. In the vein of Borges, Pynchon and Calvino, his work combined erudition, parody and the sense that a novel might be, among other things, a comment on itself. Even if the high-water mark of maximalism in American literature had come and gone by then — the writers in my workshop were more likely to dream of becoming the next Raymond Carver or Ann Beattie — Jack was revered for his teaching. We sat there, enthralled as he introduced his theory of plot (“the gradual perturbation of an unstable homeostatic system and its catastrophic restoration to a new and complexified equilibrium”) or compared the structure of dramatic action to a love affair. I can still see him smiling wickedly, saying, “There’s a reason they call it ‘climax.’ ”

    I was working on a novel called “The Invisible Woman” at the time, a story that was meant to be Barthian in its comic self-­referentiality, but which, in the end, turned out to be inescapably Boylanesque — a tale of a woman who had to keep herself hidden, lest the unforgiving world discover her identity. It would take me years to understand the obvious: I wasn’t writing a novel, but a memoir, and the woman in hiding was, of course, myself.

    On the 40th anniversary of the founding of Hopkins’s Writing Seminars, the university staged a reading by the program’s professors. That was the first time I heard Jack read “Night-Sea Journey,” a short story narrated by a sperm. “I’ve begun to believe, not only that Sheexists, but that She lies not far ahead, and stills the sea, and draws me Herward!” he says.

    I did reach Her in the end, if by Her I may refer to my own female self, the woman I finally embraced and unveiled to the world just shy of my 42nd birthday, a woman who was welcomed with almost inconceivable grace by my colleagues and my family. I found the very thing the narrator of “Night-Sea Journey” tries to forswear, the unrefusable summons of “Love! Love! Love!”

    I can trace the courage to make the transition back to Barth, from whom I learned a lot about writing but even more about the art of revision. He taught me how to see my life as a story and rewrite it, finding the narratives that brought sense to the chaos. I came to understand that embracing my identity had more to do with genre than gender: The life I was living needed to be truth, not fiction, and in order to live that truth, I needed to get on with the daunting project of creating a new draft.

    I wasn’t sure how Jack would react to the news of my transformation. While I thought of him (or at least his characters) as sexually adventurous, transgender issues in those days were still seen as exotic, even by the liberal and openhearted. But one day I got a lovely little email, in response to my memoir titled “She’s Not There.” Jack wrote, “I should say she is very much there, Boylan — or should I say, Girl-land?” The offhand pun on my name, the loving acknowledgment that I had indeed moved from Boy-land to Girl-land, was Barthian to its core.

    A few years later, Colby College, where I was teaching, gave Jack an honorary degree. There we were, together again, after all those years — teacher and student, writer and writer. At a celebratory dinner, Jack addressed the faculty and spoke about thinking about life as a story, the very process that had saved me, both in and out of his classroom, half a lifetime before. He repeated his definition of plot, his definition of life: “It’s — all together now, Boylan — the gradual perturbation of an unstable homeostatic system and its catastrophic restoration to a new and complexified equilibrium.” I said it along with him, word for word, for a short, strange moment, a student again, still young, all the triumph and turmoil of life still far ahead.

    He returned to the table and embraced me. “Nicely done, Jack,” I said. He replied, “Nicely done yourself, Girl-land.” I should have just let go of him, let him return to his chair. But instead I held him just a little bit longer, that great, kind genius of American literature, and thought — well, what else? Love! Love! Love!