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