Friday, March 23, 2007

Kate Bernheimer

Kate Bernheimer is the author of The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold and The Complete Tales of Merry Gold.

Here is part of an interview with her at Fiction Collective Two:

What led you to explore the rich world of folk and fairy tales in your writing? Do you have a personal connection to German, Russian, and Yiddish folklore?

I'm glad you find the world of fairy tales to be a rich world. Thank you for saying that. So often, I find that this immense, strange body of literature is subtly, or not-so-subtly, misunderstood and maligned. This is not to say I think everyone must love fairy tales, but at least ought to consider them, and as works of art. A few years ago a writer in a widely read and prestigious magazine asked "Is it possible that we have actually come to the end of fairy tales as an available, rather than an archival, entertainment?" The rest of the article, though praising of traditional fairytales, seemed, to me, to come to the conclusion that indeed we had. I believe that we haven't. I suppose that for my work to be considered "archival" rather than "available" could be considered a compliment. To think of myself as an Archivist, instead of as a Novelist or Editor, would be great fun, actually.

A number of events conspired to bring me here, to fairy tales. As a young child, I loved my fairy tale dolls-particularly the Madame Alexander Cinderella "before transformation" doll that I shared with my older sister. We had a pair of dolls, one Cinderella in a pink sparkling gown and one a Cinderella in a drab green dress. We messed up the fancy Cinderella's hair-cut it ragged, ripped the tulle of the gown-and fought over the two dolls, both of us wanting both of these dirty creatures to call our own. I recently read, in a New York Times article entitled "Love the Riches, Lose the Rags," about how girl-children now only identify with Cinderella as the ballroom-dress version; that's a strange twist, and sadly unsurprising in our wealth-obsessed culture. It couldn't be further from some of the beautiful early Cinderella variants, which celebrated the strength of the disenfranchised, the poor. Anyway, I grew up watching Disney movies in my grandfather's theatre basement; he had a movie projector and we four kids would sit on his old leather couch with popcorn, terrified and elated. In the books, the printed versions, I have been drawn as long as I can remember to fairy tales because of the abstract and elegant earthiness of them, their saturation with the natural world and their constant excursions toward rapture. Existentially, I am fascinated by their obsession with isolation, and how this isolation is reflected in them artistically. When I began work on my first novel, I began-at first on a whim and then with an imperative-to read fairy tale scholarship, by writers such as Max Luthi, Maria Tatar, Jack Zipes, Donald Haase, Cristina Bacchilega, and many others. What I discovered was an exciting intellectual dialogue, a conversation about literature, politics, art, philosophy, books, and it began to enter my work: somehow, it gave me form. In the cultural heritage of my biological family (which includes Latvian and German people), there is a close connection to Russian, German, and Yiddish fairy tales. Their syntax provides me with rapture, and makes me think.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue