Vivian Gornick has written about intimacy, marriage and feminism for more than four decades, and she will share some of her experiences soon in Victoria.
Her story can be found in the pages of “The Odd Woman and the City,” a memoir that took Gornick 25 years to complete. The 2015 book was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Gornick is the second author in the spring University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Reading Series. Her reading will begin at noon Feb. 16 in the UHV University West Alcorn Auditorium, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. It is free and open to the public.
“I am delighted Ms. Gornick will join us for the reading series,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences and ABR editor and publisher. “She has a gift for crafting enthralling and meaningful writing that explores the intricacies of life.”
“The Odd Woman and the City” is a memoir of self-discovery. Gornick explores the rhythms, chance encounters and ever-changing friendships of urban life that forge the sensibility of a fiercely independent woman.
“Ms. Gornick’s inability to make peace with the world – her high-strung air of discontent – is the condiment that spices so much of her work,” wrote Dwight Garner in a New York Times book review. “She is a cheerful destroyer of certainties. She possesses what she calls ‘the gene for anarchy, alive in everyone born into the wrong class, the wrong color, the wrong sex.’”
The book also includes meditative pieces on the making of a modern feminist. In fact, the title is taken from “The Odd Women,” George Gissing’s 1893 novel about the early feminist movement.
Gornick, 81, was born in the Bronx. She earned her bachelor’s degree from City College of New York and completed her master’s at New York University. As a reporter for the Village Voice from 1969 to 1977, Gornick reported on the explosion of American feminist consciousness, sometimes through her own experiences.
“I developed very quickly into a feminist journalist, and they let that happen because polemics and feminists were what they were all about,” Gornick said in a 2015 interview with the American Literary Review. “That’s what the counter-culture was. Because of that, I developed a point of view. My politics led me quickly to see that everywhere in the world I saw sexism.
Gornick said what made her a writer was the realization that she wasn’t going to hammer the reader into seeing the world as she did.
“I had to dramatize it,” she said in the same interview. “I had to make it persuasive. I had to find ways to move into what I ultimately wanted the reader to see. When I got tired of that, got tired of being a journalist and was hungry to enter myself instead of the world, I had the experience of knowing the value of a point of view.”
After leaving journalism, Gornick began teaching and started writing “Fierce Attachments.” The book tells the story of her difficult, symbiotic relationship with her mother. The narrative weaves back and forth between Gornick’s painful childhood in the Bronx and scenes from her adult life, many of them centered around conversations she had with her mother as they walked together through Manhattan.
The walks continued in “The Odd Woman and the City,” in which Gornick was accompanied by her friend Leonard, a gay man of similar background and age.
“On these long treks of ours, the concept of ‘hours’ evaporated,” Gornick wrote in the memoir. “The streets became one long ribbon of open road stretched out before us, with nothing to impede our progress. Time expanded to resemble time in one’s childhood, when it seemed never to end, as opposed to time now: always scarce, always pressing, always a fleeting marker of one’s emotional well-being.”
New York is prominently featured in both books as well as some of Gornick’s other work. She said she is joined at the hip with the city.
“What I appreciate in New York is watching the 50 different ways in which people survive,” she said in a 2015 interview with Vice magazine. “By survive, I mean try to remain human beings. I love that. I see that all the time, everywhere. My mother died at 94 – she never stopped having adventures on the street. She’d walk up to the box office at the New York City Ballet, and she’d put her hand down on the grille and say to some young person behind the grille in the middle of the day, ‘I’m 85 years old, and I live on Social Security, and I love ballet. Do something for me.’ And they would.”
Other writers scheduled for the spring UHV/ABR Reading Series are:
T. Geronimo Johnson, March 9 – Born and raised in New Orleans, Johnson is the best-selling author of “Welcome to Braggsville” and “Hold It ’Til It Hurts,” a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. He has taught writing at Arizona State University, University of Iowa, University of California Berkeley, Western Michigan University and Stanford University, and was selected for a Stegner Fellowship and an Iowa Arts Fellowship. He lives in Berkeley, Calif.
Martha R. Serpas, April 6 – Serpas has published three collections of poetry, “Côte Blanche,” “The Dirty Side of the Storm” and “The Diener.” Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, Image and Southwest Review and has been anthologized in the “Library of America’s American Religious Poems” and “The Art of the Sonnet.” Active in efforts to restore Louisiana’s wetlands, she co-produced “Veins in the Gulf,” a documentary about coastal erosion. She teaches at the University of Houston and serves as a hospital trauma chaplain.
Duane Niatum, April 27 – Niatum, a member of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe, has been writing poems, stories and essays for more than 50 years. He is published widely in the U.S. and abroad. Niatum has published eight books of poetry, including “The Pull of the Green Kite.” Duane’s writing is connected with the Northwest landscape. The legends and traditions of his ancestors help shape and animate his poetry. He has made a lifelong study of European and American Indian art, literature and culture.
ABR is a nonprofit, internationally distributed literary journal published six times a year. It began in 1977, moved to UHV 10 years ago and has a circulation of about 8,000. The journal specializes in reviews of works published by small presses.
For more information about the UHV/ABR Reading Series, call the ABR office at 361-570-4101 or go to www.americanbookreview.org.
The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region, offers courses leading to 70 bachelor’s and master’s degree programs and concentrations in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as a teaching site in Katy, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. Since its founding in 1973, UHV has provided students with a quality university education from excellent faculty at an affordable price.