Anna Quindlen, a bestselling novelist, who for years wrote a Pulitzer-winning opinion column for the New York Times, will be the guest speaker for Planned Parenthood’s Century Celebration on Oct. 13 at the Foundation for the Carolinas.
Wife, mother, grandmother, Quindlen has written 12 novels. The most recent is the 2016 “Miller’s Valley,” which the New York Times described as “mesmerizing” and having “a kind of haunting grace and truthfulness.”
A graduate of Barnard College, Quindlen, 64, is married to New Jersey Attorney General Gerald Krovatin. She’s a passionate power walker, an avid reader and a strong advocate of aging as opposed to the alternative.
In a commencement address at Villanova in 2000, Quindlen encouraged the graduates “to get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work.”
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For this interview, she agreed to answer questions by email and, like a good journalist, returned her answers well before deadline. Here she talks about why Planned Parenthood will always have detractors, what brings her joy, and why she is a fan of the man whose teachings make up The Sermon on the Mount.
A longtime supporter of women’s reproductive rights, Quindlen is co-chair of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Second Century Campaigns.
Q. The teenage pregnancy rate and the abortion rate in this country are at a 40-year low, long-time goals of Planned Parenthood. What is the next task in helping girls and young women, especially the poor, better themselves?
A. I certainly hope we continue the trajectory of fewer unplanned pregnancies. I also hope all women can have access to safe, reliable birth control. But I’d like to see something more systemic – an end to the shame that surrounds the reproductive lives of women and girls on everything from menstruation to abortion. Many of us grew up with the sense that we needed to hide, to make sure no one saw the tampon, knew about the sex, found out about the abortion. That silence needs to end.
Q. How do you account for the continuing opposition to the efforts of Planned Parenthood?
A. In certain parts of our country there is a thirst for the good old days, which weren’t so good if you were gay or African-American or female. Some, but not all, of the opposition to our work is an opposition to the changes in our culture during our lifetime. Choosing whether and when to have children offers great freedom for women. Some of the opposition to our work is opposition to freedom for women.
Q. In your latest novel, “Miller’s Valley,” a young woman knows there’s a world out there but has a hard time imagining herself in it. How old were you when you discovered you could be part of a world outside – a world that included college at Barnard, a job at the New York Times and your name on the fiction and non-fiction bestseller lists?
A. I was raised as my father’s eldest son, and that made me highly aspirational at a very young age. I can’t remember ever not wanting to have a big life in the great world. When did I begin to think this was possible? Probably not until college and the beginning of second-wave feminism. Every year I try to send Gloria Steinem an email on her birthday that says “Thank you for my life.” And, oh, boy, do I mean it!
Q. Your daughter is in her 20s. What challenges does her generation of women face that yours, as a 64-year-old, did not?
A. I met a woman in her 80s some years ago who said to me, “Oh you poor girls, with all your choices. I feel so sorry for you.” Being told you can have and do and be anything makes you feel both powerful and overwhelmed. And if you somehow feel you’ve settled for less it makes you feel like a failure even if you have a pretty terrific life. I think the choices inherent in this new world can be overwhelming for younger women. Everybody needs to take a chill pill. Some women will be astronauts, and some will be second grade teachers, and both will provide an important service to society.
Q. What do you like about getting older and what do you not like?
A. I really like still being alive each morning as opposed to the alternative. I don’t care about any of the other stuff, like my grey hair and those weird snaky veins on the backs of my hands. (Apparently you can get fat injections to make those less visible. I mean, please.) I don’t like the fact that my friends have started to die. That’s the worst part, no question.
Q. You and your husband have been married 38 years. What have you learned about how to weather the ups and downs?
A. What I’ve learned is that any advice I could offer here would be absurd and pointless. One day at a time, as they say in AA.
Q. Even though you exited Catholicism, I understand you’re a big fan of Jesus. What is it exactly that you admire about Jesus?
A. The Sermon on the Mount pretty much covers it. Blessed are the peacemakers. Jesus also hung out with women in clear violation of the prevailing mores of his time. He preached tolerance and love. I’m always amazed at how many people who call themselves Christians seem to have missed all the important things about Christ.
Q. What are the things in your life that bring you the greatest joy?
A. Easy question: time with Quin, Chris and Maria Krovatin, my children. Lynn Feng, Quin’s wife. Arthur Krovatin, Quin and Lynn’s son and my grandson. And reading. I love to read more than anything on earth. It wouldn’t bother me a bit if I didn’t write another word. But if I ever couldn’t read, it would just wreck me.
Q. The late novelist Reynolds Price once said that what every fiction writer needs is a time, a place, a quota. How does that fit with your approach to your fiction writing?
A. It jibes pretty exactly. (And who am I to disagree with Reynolds Price?) I’m not sure about the quota, although I do have some visceral sense of when I’ve strung together a sufficient number of sentences for the day. But I always sit down at about the same time, and always in the same place, sometime around 10 a.m., in my office here in New York or at our house in the country. Those people who can bang it out day or night in a Starbucks or a moving train amaze me. I have a writing biorhythm. If I do not conform, the day is shot.
Q. Did your habit of meeting newsroom deadlines carry over into your fiction writing?
A. Life as a reporter was excellent preparation for life as a novelist. I do not have writer’s block because I can write on demand. I cannot necessarily write well on demand, which was true when I was a reporter, too. But I can at least get started, and sometimes writing poorly leads to writing well.
Q. It’s the fall of 2016. What are you looking forward to for this country in the near future and for yourself?
A. The first woman president of the United States, someone I know from long acquaintance (who) is wise, hardworking, strategic, terrifyingly well-informed and intelligent: in short, the most qualified candidate for the job in my lifetime. That’s what I’m looking forward to, for the country, for my children and grandchildren, and for myself.
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic Cocktail Reception celebrating 100 years of service is 5:30-7:00 -p.m. Oct. 13 at Foundation for the Carolinas, 200 N. Tryon St., Charlotte, N.C., 28202. Cost: $100. Information: Marcie Shealy at email@example.com.