Harriet Doerr on Happy Wives and Homemakers

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7 March 2012

Harriet Doerr, author of the National Book Award winning novel Stones for Ibarra, published that beautiful novel – her first – at the age of 74 (she also went back to college to earn her BA at the age of 65).  She wrote, in a personal essay called “The Tiger in the Grass,” about speaking at a writers’ conference:

I explained my late start as an author after forty-two years of writing “housewife” on my income tax form.  These years without a profession, from 1930 to 1972, were also the years of my marriage.  Hands were raised after my talk, and I answered questions.  The final one was from a woman who assumed, incorrectly, these were decades of frustration.  “And were you happy for those forty-two years?” she asked, and I couldn’t believe the question.  I asked her to repeat it, and she said again, “Were you happy for those forty-two years?”

It was then that I said, “I never heard of anyone being happy for forty-two years,” and went on, “And would a person who was happy for forty-two years write a book?”

I love the complexity – which is to say the honesty – of Doerr’s answer.  I love the “incorrectly” coupled with the answer she gave the woman.  We want things to be simple, to be this or that; they never are.

Stones for Ibarra

I’ll be writing more about Harriet Doerr for our Post-40 Bloomers column at The Millions.

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3 Responses to “Harriet Doerr on Happy Wives and Homemakers”


  1. Reblogged this on | David Krancher and commented:
    Doerr published her first novel at 74. Never give up.

  2. mesanger Says:

    I have retold this story so often… I LOVE it! Harriet Doerr is a real hero to me, and was a fabulous writer. Her prose style often described in terms of gemstones and jewels.

    • sonyachung Says:

      Mary Ellen, I was in fact thinking of you as I was reading Doerr!


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