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Where and With Whom Writers Live: Who Cares? March 26, 2020

Posted by Onely in Uncategorized.
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PIXNIO-356247-1200x578 So I’m sitting in the sauna, and I’ve just finished the gripping and lyrical book The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and I don’t want it to be over, so I keep reading, through the acknowledgements and onto the back flap of the cover, where I learn that Coates lives somewhere with his wife.

And still in the sauna, I get to thinking about the factoids authors choose to put in their bio-blurbs. Often they bio-blurb the most mundane, heteronormative aspects of their lives: where they live, and whether there’s a spouse and kids living with them. Do readers care about the nuclear families of writers? Personally, I would rather hear how many bookshelves Coates lives with and what secret inspirational snacks he keeps in the back of his refrigerator. Why do so many creative, progressive writers stick to the dull script of “Author lives in Random Location with her Literarily Irrelevant Husband and two children, Moot and Point”? Regular readers of this blog already know why: matrimania, a term coined by social scientist Dr. Bella DePaulo for society’s obsession with marriage as this mystical, magical entity that trumps all else in our lives.

In search of answers, I grabbed some hard-back novels and nonfiction books off my shelves and examined the author bios. So, Copious Cooped-Up Readers, here are some random reading recommendations, along with my observations about the author bios.  I’ve excerpted the parts of the bios pertaining to the “Lives in. . with. . .” formula.  I scored them on a three-part scale: Nucleonormative (follows the location-spouse-kids formula), Fine (has hints of the formula), and Relevant and Refreshing (ignores the formula). These scores do not reflect the contents of the books, all of which I highly recommend. They merely reflect the authors’ approaches to their bios. 

I wondered if, in my not-at-all-comprehensive sample, there would be a difference between fiction and nonfiction authors. How would memoirists bio-blurb themselves? Would people who write about progressive single’s advocacy steer away from the location/spouse/kids trope in their bios? Let’s see:

A Life of Lies and Spies: Tales of a CIA Ops Polygraph Interrogator, by Alan Trabue (Memoir)

Trabue describes his professional background, all of which relevant to the book, and then he says he “lives in Virginia.” No mention of a spouse or kids. SCORE: Fine 

The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain, by Alice W. Flaherty (Memoir)

Flaherty describes her medical credentials then says she “lives with her three-year-old twin girls and husband in the Boston area.” SCORE: Nuclearnormative, with additional points removed for stating the ages of the twins at the moment of publication. That goes against the logic of the time-space continuum and forces extra math upon those readers who do care enough about Flaherty’s home life to wonder how old her twins actually are.

The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance, by Mardi Jo Link (Memoir)

Link’s bio consists solely of her professional credentials as a reporter and writer, all of which are relevant to the book. SCORE: Relevant and Refreshing

Bachelor Girl: The Secret History of Single Women in the Twentieth Century, by Betsy Israel (Nonfiction)

Israel lists her impressive writing credentials. Oh, and she also lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children. SCORE: Fine 

The World Doesn’t Require You: Stories, by Rion Amilcar Scott (Fiction)

Scott lists his substantial writing awards. No mention of where/with whom he lives. SCORE: Relevant and Refreshing

Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, by Eric Klinenberg (Nonfiction)

Klinenberg describes his professorial career and the awards his previous books have won. I have no idea, from this bio, where he lives and with whom. SCORE: Relevant and Refreshing 

How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, by Bella DePaulo, PhD (Nonfiction)

DePaulo describes where her professional research and writing has appeared. SCORE: Relevant and Refreshing

The Invited, by Jennifer McMahon (Novel)

McMahon lists a couple of her previous bestselling novels, then shares that she “lives in Vermont with her partner, Drea, and their daughter, Zella”. SCORE: Somewhere between fine and nucleonormative. She narrowly avoids a flat score of nucleonormative because she has a partner, not a husband.

Now that I’ve cast judgment on some of my favorite authors, it’s time for full disclosure: In 2017, when the time came to compose my own bio for my nonfiction book And Sarah His Wife (it’s a chapbook, but it has an ISBN number so it counts dangit), I came close to following the location-nuclear-family formula, because over the years I’d absorbed the idea that these were the important parts of your bio. So, I initially typed that I “live in Virginia with my partner Murphy” (I’ve changed his name in this post). According to my scoring system above, my own draft bio would have earned a rating of Almost Nucleonormative (escaping a Full Nucleonormative ranking only because, like McMahon, I had a partner instead of a husband).

Even though by 2017 I’d been writing Onely for years, when it came time to publicize myself, I still initially kowtowed to the couple trope when I drafted my bio. Fortunately, in a deep, scratchy recess of my brain, a small voice rebelled against that sentence, and I hit delete delete delete delete. What came out instead were a couple sentences about my professional writing credentials (such as they are), and then: “Christina lives in Virginia, but fantasizes about settling someday in Leelanau County, MI with her cats.” My editor made some tweaks (including the comma after Virginia, which irks my inner grammar nerd), but essentially that sentence was what I chose to replace the location-husband-kids formula. And thank goodness I did, because some months afterward, Murphy and I split up. His presence in my book bio would have irked me even more than the wayward comma.

Copious Readers, how do the authors of your favorite books describe themselves on the cover flaps? How would you write your own cover flap?

–Christina

Image credit: ulleo at pixnio

Comments»

1. clofa - March 27, 2020

Thank you for this post. I just bought “The World Doesn’t Require You” based on you recommendation 🙂 I needed some weird fiction to read during this time.
I never really thought about the authors’ bio even though I always read them. Now you made me wanna start “judging” books based on that.
I’ve checked few of my books and I’m happy to say that all of my favorite authors (e.g. Rabih Alameddine, Malcolm Gladwell, Mohammed Abdel Nabi, David Sheff, Joumana Haddad, etc.) use “relevant and refreshing” bios (even my childhood fave whose books I still own, Jostein Gaarder!)

Onely - March 27, 2020

Thanks clofa! I don’t know some of those authors, but I wrote them all down to google them later because I’ve been getting audiobooks from the library lately to help me through the pandemic-induced spring cleaning. . . I’ll report back if/when I read some of them!

clofa - March 28, 2020

You probably don’t know them because we’re from different cultures (I’m from Lebanon) and some of these authors write in Arabic. If you can’t find some of these because they’re not translated, I recommend Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine (which is originally written in English). Some of my friends found it depressing, but I thought it was uplifting! That character is one of the most relatable to me ever and I was very happy to see some of “me” reflected in a book for once.

Onely - May 19, 2020

I have Unnecessary Woman in my holds at the library. It’s audio, so it should show up in my queue even though the library is physically closed. Thanks!

Onely - August 14, 2020

I read it recently and am currently writing a quick review. I loved it and want to share it with others! I get why your friends found it depressing tho, absolutely…but I still couldn’t put it down!

clofa - August 17, 2020

That’s so nice to hear! Thank you for letting me know. I can’t wait to read your review. As a Lebanese, an aromantic asexual and even as a translator, this book is the closest thing I could ever relate to in a fictional character, so maybe that’s why it’s very dear to me. Or maybe I’m just desperate? (Considering the shortage of non-romantic fictional stories out there, lol).

clofa - August 17, 2020

By the way, I finally got the chance to start reading “The World Doesn’t Require You: Stories” based on your list above. I’ve only finished the first story but boy is that promising! Very weird so far, but I’m enjoying it 🙂

2. Craig Wynne - March 27, 2020

Thank you for this! That’s something I’ve thought about as well! In Singled Out, Bella gives a short description of her professional titles, followed by “DePaulo is single and living happily ever after in Summerland, California.” In my upcoming book, “How to be a Happy Bachelor,” I follow suit by saying “Wynne is happily single and living in Newport News, Virginia.”

Onely - March 27, 2020

I hadn’t noticed that in Singled Out! I love the “happily ever after” bit.

Separate from the spouse/partner issue, it’s mysterious why we all say where we live. I guess that’s legitimately part of our identity as a person (and some people see their partner as part of their identity, which is valid, but can be overdone). In my next book I will say, “Christina lives in her head” as I probably spend more time there than in Virginia anyway. . .

3. Ripped Bloggingdice or something | Mayersonia - April 2, 2020

[…] onto the back flap of the cover, where I learn that Coates lives somewhere with his wife.” Where and With Whom Writers Live: Who Cares?, by Onely, 26 March […]

4. Google Autofill Searches: Singlist, But Not Super Singlist | Onely.Org - June 11, 2020

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