The Margaret Fishback Papers by Novelist Kathleen Rooney – Happiness Between Tails
Click H-E-R-E for my new podcast page at AnchorFM. Poet/Historical Novelist Kathleen Rooney visits us again with a guest blog post that follows below. Via the podcast, you can also listen to how she came to publish Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, wherein an 85-year-old woman embarks upon a midnight stroll across New York City.
At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts, to Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts, along with RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and more, plus an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is at LinkTree.
Longevity is on my mind as I continue recording the book I’ve yet to publish. Writing takes time and so does getting it to the public. Perhaps you’re like me, who from the time I was very young, never felt like days were long enough?
Here I present to you Fauja Singh, a.k.a. the Sikh Superman. You can read all about him in Turbaned Tornado: The oldest Marathon Runner Fauja Singh, by Khushwant Singh.
Up until he was five-years-old, he could barely walk. Later, in his early 80s, personal tragedies sank him into deep depression. At 85 he took up running. At 89 he started competing and soon ran New York City Marathon. A lifelong vegetarian, he’s even a spokesperson for PETA. Born on April 1, 1911, he continues lacing his sneakers each day.
Early on, when he encountered racist hecklers, his mission really kicked in: he’d showing the world just how amazing people like him are!
His story inspired Simran Jeet Singh, who grew up in Texas, to publish a book for kids, Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon. Runner’s World Magazine offers background on both the Singhs and the book.
You’ll remember today’s guest, author Kathleen Rooney, from when she contributed to Happiness Between Tails here and here. Besides her historical novels, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (which features a lively octogenarian) and Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, she’s a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, that publishes literary work in hybrid genres. In addition, she’s a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a band of poets who haul typewriters wherever readers gather. Then they fill orders for custom poems. Her latest collection Where Are the Snows, winner of the XJ Kennedy Prize, has just been released by Texas Review Press and her next novel, From Dust to Stardust, will be published by Lake Union Press in Fall of 2023.
Here she describes the which and why of one of her fave books, a marvelously dirty one! I just read Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying and was pretty impressed, for its time and now! What’s the last dirty book you read? (Note: Kathleen’s review first appeared in The Star Tribune.)…
Kathleen Rooney’s book review: A Tale of Five Cities and Other Memoirs, by Joyce Elbert
NONFICTION: The unjustly neglected Joyce Elbert reminiscences about being a woman novelist in a man’s world.
A contemporary of Jacqueline Susann, credited by Cosmopolitan magazine with writing “the first really great dirty book,” Joyce Elbert made a splash in 1969 with her novel “The Crazy Ladies,” a slinky, metropolitan, woman-centric romp that sold more than 4 million copies worldwide.
Yet by the time of her death from Lou Gehrig’s disease in Florida in 2009, this brash and brilliant Bronx-born author had long since sunk beneath the waves of obscurity, no longer able to garner interest in what she called her “zany, sexy, campy creations.”
Luckily for contemporary readers, the eight previously unpublished autobiographical essays gathered here in “A Tale of Five Cities and Other Memoirs” brings Elbert’s wit and earthy sophistication back to the surface.
Published by Tough Poets Press, a one-man operation dedicated to “new and rediscovered unconventional and neglected literary fiction, poetry, and nonfiction,” and committed, as Publishers Weekly has put it, to “resuscitating forgotten classics,” this collection reintroduces 21st-century audiences to an underappreciated, funny and feminist talent.
With candor, toughness and an indefatigable sense of humor, Elbert regales the reader with details of her bohemian life among the likes of Mark Rothko and Simone de Beauvoir, as well as her romantic (mis)adventures with men who range from the maddeningly casual and unsupportive, to her alcoholic con-man ex-husband, to an outright physical abuser.
Yet the book is never more about them than it is about her quest to become and remain an author, an ambition so deep that after being battered by the aforementioned partner, she notes, “My only consolation was that someday I would be able to use this sordid experience in a book. Yes, even in times of despair the novelist’s brain is forever churning.”
Elbert also chronicles her own later-in-life descent into alcoholism and struggle for sobriety, concluding that, “Like many mind-altering drugs, alcohol had shown me where I needed to go, but alcohol couldn’t get me there.”
The title essay — or really five separate-but-linked essays — globe-trots from Acapulco to Paris to Campello to London to Martha’s Vineyard, but New York and its bygone midcentury milieu remain the most indelible in Elbert’s memory. The book opens with “Movies: 1934,” about attending screenings at “our local movie palace, The Allerton … a ten-minute walk from where we lived in a remote section of the Northeast Bronx” with her mother, of whom she writes, “Nothing in her life had emotionally prepared her for marriage or motherhood and yet there she was, trapped, with no hope in sight.”
Elbert manages, often with daffy panache, to evade those traps. In the confident and unapologetic yet self-aware vein of her fellow writer of glamour and excess Eve Babitz, Elbert documents her own desires and drives against a vivid backdrop of long-gone social settings.
At the end of her life, Elbert left behind at least seven unpublished novels, as well as several novellas and short stories. If the essays in “A Tale of Five Cities” are any indication of their quality, one can only hope that those will be resuscitated soon.
What’s the last dirty book you read?