A (Brief) Conversation with Sarah Schulman

Interviewed by Jerry Wheeler

Novelist/activist/playwright Sarah Schulman is a woman of few words, but we got her to jot down a few for Out in Print about her latest book and some of her working habits.

Jerry L. Wheeler: What was the catalyst for “Ties That Bind?” Was there a particular incident that sparked your writing it?
Sarah Schulman: Honestly I can’t remember.

JW: You mention both your family and some therapeutic experiences in the book – were those difficult to write since you did not have a fictional persona as cover?
SS: The problem with the five or so pages of personal experience is my fear that some people will then continue to pretend that familial homophobia is a personal problem, when in fact it is a cultural crisis.

JW: One of the book’s main concepts is the intervention of third parties in private relationships. Have you ever been the one to intervene? What was the outcome? And to follow up, has anyone ever intervened with a family member on your behalf?
SS: No one has ever intervened with my family on my behalf. I have intervened on behalf of violated people asking for help many many times in my life. Perhaps daily.

JW: As a professor, you obviously come into contact with a lot of younger people – is the process of coming out getting easier for them than in previous generations or are they confronted with the same problems?
SS: I teach on Staten Island, a throwback borough that really should be part of Texas (as it is in my new novel THE MERE FUTURE). The homophobia is pervasive and gay students’ lives are hell on our campus. Gay students and Muslim students experience constant diminishment in the classroom from their peers.

JW: You clearly have some opinions about how the LGBT culture is treated in the mass media – do you think current programs like “The L Word” or the now-defunct “Will and Grace” hurt us or help us in the long run?
SS: I believe that the L Word has been cancelled.

JW: As the holidays are rapidly approaching, what would be your advice for those members of the LGBT community who will be going “back home” for family gatherings in terms of standing your ground and refusing to be shunned?
SS:I don’t understand your question. My position is that gay people must have a place in their families. Your question implies the opposite.

JW: I always find writers’ creative processes interesting – how do you work? Do you outline or just have a general idea of where the piece is going and let it flow organically?
SS: I never outline.

JW: Do you find writing novels or plays more satisfying, or are they equally so?
SS: I have graphomania, apparently, so any kind of writing is fine.

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