The Millions

Women Have Always Been at the Center of Upheavals: Amber Tamblyn in Conversation with Janet Fitch

Amber Tamblyn and Janet Fitch first met at a tiki bar in Los Angeles in 2010, when Tamblyn was seeking the movie rights to Fitch’s second novel, Paint It Black, which became Tamblyn’s directorial debut. Since then, the two have had an ongoing conversation about feminism, politics, history, aesthetics, sexuality, cinema, tiki drinks, and life in our times. This year, both have new books—Tamblyn’s memoir of political awakening, The Era of Ignition: Coming of Age in a Time of Rage and Revolution, and Fitch’s novel Chimes of a Lost Cathedral, the second part of a duet set during the Russian Revolution, which began with The Revolution of Marina M.

The conversation continues here:

Amber Tamblyn: Janet, you have inspired a generation of feminist writers with works like Paint It Black and White Oleander. Your latest book, Chimes of a Lost Cathedral, the follow up to The Revolution of Marina M., is a full-throttle culmination of all the powerful ways in which you have written dangerously as an author, and also written dangerous female characters. What about this latest collection feels different to you than the stories about women you have told before?

Janet Fitch: My books have always had a feminist orientation, girls and women at agency in their own lives, grappling for meaning and a moral philosophy—though they would not have called it that. But up to recently, I’d written about my characters in a kind of isolation. Though they were impinged on by the structures of society, the thinness of social nets, or class issues as in Paint It Black, it was always about the drama of a few isolated individuals. Ingrid Magnussen, the rebel, was the only one who thought directly about the larger political structures.

But in the books set in the Russian Revolution, my young women, especially my protagonist, poet Marina, and her radical friend Varvara, think directly about society and its future, and their part in its unfolding. Women They were an essential part of the new government—something that had not been seen in the world before, ever. I often use the voice of the bread queue as my Greek chorus, women expressing the temper of the times. Varvara at 19 is a responsible part of the Bolshevik government. Marina at 17 is already on her own, finding an absolutely new way of living in the world. Their friend Mina is the head of household, making decisions that will affect everyone around her. These women are forces in the world.

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