Audience members erupted into laughter time and time again as Meg
Wolitzer and Roger Rosenblatt exchanged witty remarks during Wednesday’s
The humor and wit seeded throughout the conversation demonstrated Wolitzer’s philosophy on its use in novels.
“Humor in a novel has to exist the way humor in a conversation exists,” she said. “It comes out of character.”
Between the jokes and laughter, Rosenblatt and Wolitzer discussed
female authors, decisions writers make and character development in
Having an established mother as a writer is the greatest thing in the world to Wolitzer.
“Because she never once told me, ‘Maybe you should think about law school,’ ” she said.
Her mother made Wolitzer realize that people only have one life to live and should do something they are passionate about.
Wolitzer recited an anecdote she had written in a piece for The New York Times.
When a man at a dinner party found out Wolitzer was a writer, he asked
her the worst question a writer can be asked: “Would I have heard of
She began answering it by naming her books and hoping people who
asked would recognize one. After explaining to the man what her books
were about, he told Wolitzer she should meet his wife.
Now, Wolitzer realizes there is only one answer to that question:
“In a more just world,” she said.
Some of the greatest writers are women, and some of the greatest
novels are about women and their lives, Wolitzer said. But female
authors have a smaller audience than male authors. Women are more likely
to read books about and written by men and women, but it’s harder to
get men to read books about and written by women.
“That’s crazy to me,” Wolitzer said. “I feel like saying to the men:
‘Don’t you want to know about the women you live with? Don’t you want to
know what’s going on in their lives?’ ”
Novels can tell a lot about people, and it’s important to learn about others, she said.
“Because if you don’t know about what goes on in the interior lives
of other people, how can you have empathy?” Wolitzer said. “The whole
culture kind of collapses.”
Writing is all about choices. Choices about what a book should be about, how it should be written, characters, tone.
When Wolitzer wrote her most recent book, The Uncoupling, she wanted to write about female desire over time and what happens to it, she said.
One way she could have written the book would have made it seem like a
“cranky women’s magazine called ‘Our Sex Life Has Gotten Kind of
Dim.’ ” But that would not be a novel, she said.
“I only write the novels that I want to find on the shelf, which I think is a great rule of thumb,” Wolitzer said.
In terms of characters, Wolitzer said it is important to answer the
question, “Who are these people?” If readers don’t know why they are
reading a book or who the characters are, they will have no reason to
Wolitzer suggested everyone should have a designated reader who can
provide input on a book’s progress. That is a way to ensure characters
do not all sound the same. It is also important to make sure the
character is someone the writer would want to be around.
“If it’s not somebody you want to talk to at the dinner party, it’s not somebody you want to live with for 300 pages,” she said.
Humor also plays a role in character.
To explain the difference between jokes and humor in novels, Wolitzer
told a joke about a family visiting their grandmother on her 100th
birthday and asking her what she would like to do that she has never
done before. The grandmother wants to go whitewater rafting on the
Colorado River. As promised, the family hires a private nurse, makes her
a special IV line and brings her to the river to go whitewater rafting.
On her 101st birthday, the family asks her the same question. She
says, “All my life, I’ve been wanting to go whitewater rafting on the
Wolitzer said she gave the audience the scene of the joke only to take it away.
“In a good novel, if you set someone up to take it away, that’s cheap,” Wolitzer said. “That’s not fair. That’s a bad choice.”
Roger Rosenblatt is a journalist, author, playwright, and teacher. William Safire of the New York Times wrote that his work represents "some of the most profound and stylish writing in America today." His television essays for "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS have won a Peabody and an Emmy award. His essays for TIME magazine have won two George Polk Awards, awards from the American Bar Association, the Overseas Press Club, and others.
Rosenblatt's journalism career began in 1975 as literary editor of The New Republic. He has also been a columnist and editor-at-large for Life magazine, the editor of U.S. News & World Report, a columnist and editorial board member of The Washington Post and editor-at-large of TIME, Inc. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, The New Republic, Esquire and elsewhere.
He is the author of ten books, including a collection of his writings, The Man in the Water, Coming Apart: A Memoir of the Harvard Wars of 1969, and the national bestseller, Rules for Aging. His book Children of War (1983) won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His most recent book, Lapham Rising (2006), his first novel, was loosely based on the lecture he delivered on major trends of the 20th century at Chautauqua in 2004.
Rosenblatt is currently a professor in the English department at Stony Brook University, where he teaches in the writing program at Stony Brook Southampton. He was most recently the Edward R. Murrow Visiting Professor of the Practice of the Press and Public Policy at Harvard University and held the Parsons Family Chair at the Southampton graduate campus of Long Island University.
Meg Wolitzer is New York Times best-selling, critically claimed author of seven novels, including The Ten
Year Nap, The Position, and The Wife. Her latest, The Uncoupling, was released in April 2011.
Wolitzer's short fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize, and her
novel This Is Your Life was made into the Nora Ephron film â€œThis Is My Life.â€ She has taught in the graduate
writing programs at Columbia University, Skidmore College and the University of Iowa Writersâ€™ Workshop.
A voracious Scrabble player, Wolitzer's September 2011 children's book, The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman, is about kids who meet at a Scrabble tournament. She attended Smith College and is a graduate of Brown University.