Why Can't our Heroes be Heroines?

SHE WRITES and Teri Coyne host

Ordinary Women: Extraordinary Heroines
A New Paradigm for the Modern Heroine.

a reading with authors

Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 7:30pm

5233 N. Clark St.
Andersonville, IL
(773) 769-9299
Red Line to Berwyn

OWEH Comes to Chicago 9/30

Ordinary Women: Extraordinary Heroines is on the road to Chicago where Women & Children First Bookstore will be hosting another great evening of readings and discussion of the different ways heroines appear in fiction. Once again, SHE WRITES and Teri Coyne will co-host the event and introduce a great panel of authors who will read from their work.

Meet our Authors

Audrey Niffenegger
Audrey trained as a visual artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and received her MFA from Northwestern University’s Department of Art Theory and Practice in 1991. Her first books were printed and bound by hand in editions of ten. Two of these have since been commercially published by Harry N. Abrams: The Adventuress and The Three Incestuous Sisters.
In 1997 Miss Niffenegger had an idea for a book about a time traveler and his wife. She published The Time Traveler’s Wife in 2003 with the independent publisher MacAdam/Cage. It was an international best seller, and has been made into a movie.

Miss Niffenegger’s second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, was published in 2009 by Scribner (USA), Jonathan Cape (UK) and many other fine publishers around the world. She recently made a serialized graphic novel for the London Guardian, The Night Bookmobile, which will be published in book form in 2010. Other current projects include an art exhibit at Printworks Gallery in September, 2010, and a third novel, The Chinchilla Girl in Exile.

Amina Gautier
Amina Gautier’s fiction has appeared in
The Antioch Review, Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, North American Review, The Southern Review, StoryQuarterly, and numerous anthologies, including Best African American Fiction, and New Stories from the South. She is the author of At Risk (University of Georgia, 2011; forthcoming), which won the Flannery O'Connor Short Fiction Award for 2010, and an Assistant Professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She is currently writing a monograph on Charles W. Chesnutt and the politics of gender.

Emily Gray Tedrowe
Emily has published fiction in Crab Orchard Review, Other Voices, and Sycamore Review, among other journals. She won an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award for one of her short stories, and has received fellowships from the Ragdale Foundation and the Virginia Center for Creative Artists. Born in New York City, Emily lives in Chicago with her husband and two daughters. Commuters is her first novel.

Zoe Zolbrod
A long t
ime ago, Zoe Zolbrod took a solo backpacking trip around Southeast Asia, and when she got back, she started writing about it. Related short stories and nonfiction have appeared in places like The Chicago Reader, Fish Stories Collectives, and Maxine, a zine she co-founded in the 1990s.Currency, her first novel, has been in the works since back then, too. She's currently a senior editor for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and lives in Evanston, IL, with her two kids and her husband, the artist Mark DeBernardi.

Teri Coyne
A former stand-up comedian, Teri Coyne is an exciting new literary voice whose dark, edgy, page-turning debut novel The Last Bridge (Ballantine Trade Paperback; 2010) delves into the lengths one woman will travel to escape her past. The Last Bridge has garnered critical praise from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and The Huntington News. It was also recommended by The Daily Beast, and LA Times and selected as a Target Breakout Book.

Currently calling New York home, she will be a featured presenter at the upcoming Wisconsin Book Festival and is working on her second novel.

Deborah Siegel

Deborah S

iegel, PhD, Founding Pa

rtner/Director of Content and Community at She Writes (www.shewrites.com), is the author of Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild (Palgrave Macmillan), co-editor of the literary anthology Only Child (Harmony/Random House), and founder of the blog Girl w/Pen (girlwpen.com). Her writings on women, feminism, contemporary families, sex, and popular culture have appeared in venues including The Washington Post, The Guardian, Slate’s The Big Money, The Huffington Post, The American Prospect, More, Psychology Today, andRecessionwire. Deborah has lead myriad workshops and consulted with individuals, organizations, and companies seeking to expand their public platform through books, new media, and blogs. A member of the Women’s Media Center, a Fellow at the W

oodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, and a Board Member of the Council on Contemporary Families, she is a frequent media commen

tator and lectures at campuses and conferences nationwide. A Winnetka native with very fond memories of the English Department at New Trier High School, she currently lives in Brooklyn with her h

usband, graphic designer Marco Acevedo, and their 10-month old twins.

About our Host:

Women & Children First Bookstore
Women and Children First (WCF) is one of the largest feminist bookstores in the country, stocking more than 30,000 books by and about women, children's books for all ages, and the best of lesbian and gay fiction and non-fiction, as well as music, videos, magazines and pride products. WCF began in a modest storefront in 1979 and is now in a northside Chicago neighborhood known for its diversity, queer-friendliness, women-owned businesses and community spirit. Staffers include teachers, graduate students, professional writers and storytellers, political activists, board members, and poets. Each is a reader, a feminist, and a bookseller. Their mission is to promote the work of women writers and to create a place in which all women can find books reflecting their lives and interests, in an atmosphere where all are respected, valued, and well-served.


Welcome everyone. Thank you all for coming out. I am really excited about this evening and so glad you have joined myself and SHE WRITES in our second exploration of Ordinary Women: Extrarodinary Heroines. We are so glad to be back after our successful night in January where we hosted a great group of women writers. That evening was so inspirational we decided to do it again.

There is a great power in the collective energies of women coming together and no one knows better than my co-hosts for tonight - Kamy Wicoff and Deborah Siegel, the co-founders of SHE WRITES. She Writes is an online community and a workplace for women who write, with over 8000 active members from all fifty states and more than thirty countries. In addition to their work with She Writes , Kamy and Deborah are bright, accomplished writers and activists in their own right. Like all of the women on the panel tonight, they are passionate about discovering, speaking and honoring the stories and experiences of women.

We live in interesting times, if you doubt that, you probably aren’t reading as much as you should. The depth and breadth of stories written by and about women is astounding. If you don’t believe me, you will, once you hear the work of these great writers tonight. While each of these writers has their own vibrant and unique view of the world, they are united in their commitment to give voice to the experiences of ordinary women.

In addition to being writers, these women are teachers, mentors, businesswomen, and passionate about stories. Yours, mine, theirs. I hope this evening will give you a glimpse into some new worlds, introduce you to new voices but most of all I hope it will inspire you to tell your stories, speak your truth and live your life as an Ordinary women, extraordinary heroine.

Introducing Our Co-hosts for the evening

She Writes:
She Writes is a community and a workplace for women who write, with over 8000 active members from all fifty states and more than thirty countries. Right now, emerging writers and established bestsellers are finding services, support and actionable advice on She Writes. In the future, a linked network, She Reads, will empower women writers further by connecting them directly to readers in a marketplace distinguished by its commitment to the production and distribution of high quality content: She Reads/She Writes.

She Writes was founded by author and salonniere Kamy Wicoff, in partnership with Deborah Siegel, author, consultant and Ph.D. It is a mission-driven company, based on the belief that writing is life- and world-changing for women.

Learn more about She Writes

About Kamy:

Kamy Wicoff is the Founder and CEO of SHE WRITES. She is the co-founder, with Nancy K. Miller, of the New York Salon of Women Writers, and the best-selling author of I Do But I Don’t: Why The Way We Marry Matters (Da Capo Press, March 2007). She serves on the Advisory Council of Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research, and was the first fiction/nonfiction editor of Women’s Studies Quarterly. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, and has been anthologized in Why I’m Still Married: Women Write Their Hearts Out on Love, Loss, Sex and Who Does the Dishes (Hudson Press, February 2006), and About Face: Women Write About What They See When They Look In The Mirror (Seal Press, June 2008). She has appeared on NPR, CBS Sunday Morning, and in The New York Times. Kamy lives in New York with her sons, Max and Jed.

About Deborah:
Deborah Siegel, Founding Partner and VP at Large, is the author of Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild, co-editor of the literary anthology Only Child: Writers on the Singular Joys and Solitary Sorrows of Growing Up Solo, founder of the blog Girl w/Pen, and co-founder of the webjournal The Scholar & Feminist Online. Her writings on women, feminism, contemporary families, sex, and popular culture have appeared in venues including The Washington Post, The Guardian, Slate’s The Big Money, Recessionwire (where she penned the popular Love in the Time of Layoff column), The Huffington Post, The American Prospect, More, Psychology Today, and The Mothers Movement Online. Deborah has lead myriad workshops and consulted with individuals, organizations, and companies seeking to expand their public platform through books, new media, and blogs. Organizational clients have included the Women’s Funding Network, the White House Project, the National Council for Research on Women, the National Women’s Studies Association, Catalyst, the Women’s Media Center, the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, the Family Violence Prevention Fund, and the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership. An alumna of the first class of the Women’s Media Center’s Progressive Women’s Voices program, a Fellow at the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, and a Board Member of the Council on Contemporary Families, she is a frequent media commentator and lectures at campuses and conferences nationwide. She lives in Brooklyn with the graphic designer Marco Acevedo and their 6-month old twins, Anya and Teo.

Learn more about Deborah Siegel

Meet Diane Meier

About Diane:
Diane Meier's first book, The New American Wedding - Ritual and Style in a Changing Culture - traced a revolution in the nature of public ceremony, as it reflected our evolving society. President of MEIER, a NYC-based marketing firm, her work on behalf of clients from Neiman Marcus and DeBeers, to Kohler, Elizabeth Arden and Pierre Balmain - have helped define luxury marketing for a generation. Diane's first novel, The Season of Second Chances, was this season's lead book from publisher, Henry Holt and Company, chosen as a Top Choice by the nation's Independent Booksellers, and has been well received by critics and readers alike, albeit causing some passionate discourse on the nature of "Women's Literature" as a literary category.

Some thoughts on heroines:

SheWrites, and our Heroine Panel at KGB on Wednesday, are asking for a blog on the idea of unorthodox heroines. And, though I may be too literally interpreting the concept, I’m taking it to mean this new feminine model we’re seeing in literature and movies: the Superhero-ine who Whams! and Bams! with the best of them. Or the unapologetic, shit-kicking crank we find, by chapter five, can shoot the hell out of the dungeon and happens to be on our side; the assassin-heroine of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, or the little blue-haired girl in Kick Ass. Their appeal is undeniable. I mean, I get it. It’s fresh and new. But I’m really thinking of how much more effective --- and more importantly, how subversive -- it could be to beat the odds with the tricks women have always known how to dish up.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not for censure, or limiting Creatives in their desire to develop tough talkin’ gals who know how to make bombs and tear the balls off of bad guys. If that’s the way an artist wants to express herself, go to it. And, of course, I want to live in a world where creative output is not defined by a chromosome. But I also want to make sure that we don’t buy the old male idea of what a hero is supposed to be.

If we look at the heroes our testosterone-rich writers have dished up for us over the last half-century or so, we see a bunch of action figures swaggering across page and screen, reflecting men who swagger across the globe -- brandishing their holy wars, genocide, ethnic-cleansing-brands of rape, and imperialistic campaigns for and about oil, gold and cola. Are these the role models we want to follow?

Iron Man cleans his dirty-weapon-designing-conscience by creating a fire storm of dick-hardening, death-machine action. Really? That’s all he could think to do? Kick more ass? Not exactly Alfred Nobel. And the Avatars – where do I begin? Sully, our earnest, American spy, learns so little from his sensitive, nature-connected Na’vi compatriots, that it never occurs to him to take the larger message of peace, the circle of life, the issues of environmental protection and – most of all – a push-back against arrogant imperialism, back to his own people, so that the pea-brained, scar-faced general might be removed from duty. Instead, he stays and fights. And fights and fights and fights until there is nothing left to save. He’s too stupid or stubborn to try something else. It’s nothing short of pathetic.

Oppressed classes value the traits and skills of their oppressors over their own. One can see why, of course. In the value system created by The Other, the skills of the oppressed – permitted or enforced -- seem so puny. So less-than. But value is in the eye of the beholder. (And when women horn players have to audition behind screens to make sure they’re equitably heard, it must also be affect the ears of the beholders.)

I’d suggest we take another look at the things we’ve just moved beyond in our rightful quest to pick up the reins of power. When Mary Robinson was made the president of Ireland, one of her first acts was to put lighted candles in the windows of the presidential residence, as a symbol to welcome back the Irish who’d emigrated away from their homeland. I find it a very womanly, nurturing thing to do, and no less powerful because of that fact, as business and money, not to mention tax advantages, followed. She didn’t declare war on Denmark because she wanted butter.

But in our art, we’re left with the value of a good punch over wisdom; some brute force, rather than a move forward by inspired negotiation. So – I’m just saying -- that it’s a shame we’re not likely to see the values of progress, the things we were taught at our mother’s knee, the things we have always known to be smarter and richer and more powerful than aggression, as we look to create New Heroines.

Read an excerpt from The Season of Second Chances

Learn more about Diane Meier

Meet Terese Svoboda

About Terese:
Svoboda's writing has been featured in The New Yorker, Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Slate.com, Bomb, Lit, Columbia, Yale Review and The Paris Review. Her honors include an O. Henry for the short story, a nonfiction Pushcart Prize, a translation NEH fellowship, a PEN/Columbia Fellowship, two New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships in poetry and fiction, a New York State Council on the Arts grant and a Jerome Foundation grant in video, the John Golden Award in playwriting, the Bobst Prize in fiction and the Iowa Prize in poetry.

A University of British Columbia and Columbia graduate, she has taught at Sarah Lawrence, Fordham, Williams, the College of William and Mary, the University of Hawaii, the University of Miami, Bennington, Davidson, the New School, St. Petersburg, Russia, Nairobi, and is currently teaching graduate students at Columbia's School of the Arts. Her new book, Pirate Talk, or Mermalade, will be released in September 2010 and Bohemian Girl--with a great girl heroine!--will come out the next September.

Some thoughts on heroines:

Save me! Save me! My hero! coos the blonde. Nay—let the new heroine give the crewcut a hand. Capes are cool. This is not to say that we haven’t been hoisting guys out of trouble for a long time already—but we want the credit, the dough, the crown and the light sword.

Read an excerpt from Pirate Talk or Mermalade

Learn more about Terese Svoboda

Meet Teri Coyne

About Teri:
Teri Coyne’s novel, The Last Bridge, was named a Target Breakout Book and called, “…a compelling debut…” by Publishers Weekly and a “…psychological tour de force…” by Booklist and will be released in paperback on May 25. Writing since she received her first typewriter on her 10th birthday, she studied poetry with Philip Shultz, novel writing at Iowa Summer Writers Workshop, memoir with Frank McCourt and fiction with Masha Hamilton. A former stand-up comedienne, she also explored filmmaking, playwriting, acting, producing and directing. Teri lives in New York and is nearly done with her second novel.

A few words about heroines:

In the long journey I took with my main character, Cat Rucker, the one that was most enlightening was discovering I was writing a character that many people would not initially like. Cat’s intensity, her tenuous grip on reality and her anger at the world was what made me love her and nurture her through her story, I was surprised when I heard people in workshops ask if I could make her less angry, if maybe she couldn’t drink so much.

I was told she was too intense, that what happened to her was something people didn’t want to deal with. Some said the brutality of her life was hard to take.

Of all the feedback I got the one that shocked me the most was that my main character was not a nice person.

I couldn’t help but wonder, if Cat Rucker was a man would anyone care?

This “nice” thing pushed a button in me, are our stories only valid if they are told in a nice way? What is nice anyway? Is it kind, loving, respectful, I can get next to that or is it code for something else. Is it a way of saying, you are too much, you are not apologetic enough about your feelings.

I define a heroine as a woman who is unapologetic about her feelings, who owns who she is and what she does, who struggles to transcend and embrace her upbringing, societies expectations and her own limitations. A woman who speaks her truth and respects others but has neither the time, interest or inclination to be "nice," especially when being human is so much more interesting.

Meet Virgina DeBerry and Donna Grant

About Virginia and Donna:
With seven novels to their credit, Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant, best friends for nearly 30 years, have turned a friendship into one of the most successful and enduring writing collaborations in contemporary women’s fiction.

Donna attended Barnard College and is a graduate of New York University. A Brooklyn native, she currently lives in the borough with her husband. Before becoming a novelist, she spent more than a decade as a plus size model, represented by the 12 + division of Ford Models.

Virginia is a former high school English teacher from Buffalo, New York attended Fisk University and is a graduate of SUNY at Buffalo. After almost 10 years in the classroom, she moved to New York and started a successful career as a plus size model. Virginia now lives in New Jersey.

Their first mainstream novel, Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made, was a critical success, an Essence Bestseller and won the Merit Award for Fiction from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Far From the Tree became a New York Times Bestseller. Their subsequent books, Better Than I Know Myself, Gotta Keep on Tryin’, a sequel to Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made and What Doesn’t Kill You Awards, have all been national best sellers. Their latest novel, Uptown, hit shelves in March, 2010.

A few words about heroines:
A few years ago, we were asked to teach a week long class at the Writer’s Institute at Miami Dade College. At the time, we were working on our fifth novel, and over the course of our career, had often spoken about writing—both the craft and our process. But up to that point, we hadn’t had a reason to specifically dissect the genre we considered ourselves a part of--women’s fiction. Having to prepare a syllabus, even for a workshop that was only a few days, caused us to look at what we wrote in a new light, to explain in concrete terms both our motivation and intention.

We looked at heroines--Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones, Jane Austen’s Emma and Zora Neal Hurston’s Janey among many others to see what made them singular, memorable and what made them different from heroes? Was the “ine” tacked on to the end of hero all that makes a story “women’s” fiction? And the answer we came up with was that women’s fiction is not only about readers identifying with the main character or characters, it is, to a great extent, having readers CARE about them. Bridget, Emma and Janey come off the page and move into your life like a new friend. They are either ordinary women having extraordinary experiences which reminds us that we’re all potentially extraordinary. Or, they are extraordinary women having ordinary experiences which reminds us that we share a common bond as women, no matter the circumstances we were born into.

The women we love and know in books are characters we perceive as flesh and blood, bone and skin. They are far from perfect, but they are unique—special, even as they exhibit the flaws that make us human. They have a point of view. They have history. They have baggage. They have secrets. They suffer defeat. They have strengths as well as bad habits. Yet somehow they get through the challenging circumstances their fictional lives present. Maybe not unscathed, and certainly not unchanged, but they go on, and that gives us all hope. These women are alive on the page, and we either love or are antagonized by them because they strike a little too close to home, but we definitely react. Reading about these fictional women is revealing and voyeuristic as well as intensely personal and reflective. We find out that peeling off the designer suit, the discount store mom jeans, stepping out of the pricey pumps revealing the bunions, cellulite, dreams and insecurities we all have underneath, can make us more mighty than the armor we usually don. And our extra/ordinary heroines also help us discover the strength, cunning, intelligence, humor and passion, which was there all along, even without the ruby slippers. We might even leave with an insight or two, or a vow to be braver or go easier on ourselves as we make it through our days.

Read an excerpt from Uptown

Learn more about Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant