reading women

Eileen Myles on the Book That Made Writing Like Talking

Photo: Libby Lewis

In Reading Women, the Cut talks to women who interest us about the books by women that transformed the way they think.

Gertrude Stein’s Lectures in America totally changed my sense of what writing was. I was in my 20s and had come to New York to be a writer. I was ready to be influenced in all directions, and of course a lot of those directions were men. But Stein was talking about writing and literature and thinking and living all in the same conversation. And she was standing on a kind of authority that was amazing. She claimed a kind of genius. I had never heard a woman talk that way about writing and thinking — and presuming that her opinions were valuable, and could be freestanding without some big institution or apparatus around her. It seemed to me she advocated a kind of boldness in literature. I thought, that’s exactly why I want to be a writer: for the freedom and ability to define things and limit things and expand things.

Stein made me think about writing as speech. We don’t talk in complete sentences most of the time, or we hesitate, and we repeat. She was literally using that in her writing. Sometimes, she would hesitate. She would say, “The thing is, the thing is …” I thought, wait a second. Is that a stutter, is that a typo? No, that’s her taking her time. Pacing herself. I was a kid from Boston, working-class background, and I thought, Well, can’t I use some of what I heard growing up, and how I speak now, and how I’ve learned to speak in college. I really felt like I woke up. I suddenly understood that writing was something that could transform my life.

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Eileen Myles on the Book That Made Writing Like Talking