Kurt Vonnegut Radio
Kurt Vonnegut Radio with Gabe Hudson
31. Why A.M. Homes thinks we are all Barbie

31. Why A.M. Homes thinks we are all Barbie

Gabe Hudson interviews the iconic author about her new novel, her beloved Barbie story, and her position in the Writer's Guild and the WGA strike

No transcript...

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If A.M. Homes got a quote tattoo it would be:

“Embrace the absurd.” – Albert Camus

Two special announcements (!!)

1: Today the iconic writer A. M. Homes is my guest on podcast. A. M. Homes has been a writing hero of mine for as long as I can remember. In conversation, A.M. is funny and super smart and soulful. A. M. Homes’ amazing new novel, The Unfolding, has just been published in paperback, and it's a deep dive into America’s recent past. To understand how we got to our present horror show. This book is witty, culturally astute, and packed with killer sentences. It also has A.M.’s trademark empathy for all people in the human condition.

2. Today is my birthday. Go Team Virgo. And if you want to give me a birthday gift, subscribe to Kurt Vonnegut Radio (or if you’re already a subscriber then maybe share KVR with a friend)

Quotes from our conversation

Why A.M. wrote a Barbie story back in the day

I wrote it while I was a graduate student at the University of Iowa, and I was really just interested in how, when I was growing up, my mother was like, Barbie's not an appropriate toy for girls to play with, you can't have a Barbie, she's too sexual. And so I wanted to write this theoretically innocent story about a boy who was dating a Barbie doll.

How ppl responded to A.M.’s Barbie when she was in U. of Iowa MFA

I went and got one, and I put it on the mantle in my apartment in Iowa City. And everyone who came over started doing things to Barbie and the first thing every person did was they took off her clothes and I was like, weird, like you come into my house and you undress my Barbie?

And then they would confess. They would tell me things that either they had done to their Barbie or that their sibling had done to Barbie. And so it immediately became a much more complicated and darker story about... Men and women, to sexuality, to all this kind of stuff that's just under the surface.

What happened when A.M. tried to publish her Barbie story

And then when I finished the story, I remember I first workshopped it, not at Iowa, but I was at N Y U for a while and people said, oh, this story is psychotic. And I was like, I'm sorry, what? I go, it's psychotic. And I was like, I don't know what that means. And they're like, right, well, Barbie doesn't have a vagina, so it's not possible.

Oh, too much information. That was interesting to me that they were taking it so literally. And then we tried to get the story published and Playboy wanted to publish it and their lawyers said, Oh no, we can't publish this. You know, Mattel is very litigious.

And so all these magazines wanted to run it, and all the lawyers were like, do not run it. And finally this gay men's magazine called Christopher Street. Actually ran four of the stories from Safety of Objects, which was a lot. It was like an A.M. Homes special issue, but I'm sure it had to be their worst selling issue of all time, because what gay men's magazine has me on the cover? Like, hi!

On why A.M.’s latest novel, The Unfolding, is a political novel set in 2008

I also am very interested, as one sees in The Unfolding, in the domestic. And so this was a chance in this book to write big and small. Large scale American political landscape, and also American familial landscape, and how that all evolves. Because the novel is really about how we got to now. And the choice to set it in this period between the election inauguration in 2008, I wanted to begin to illustrate how the racism and sexism that was always latent, obviously, and had never really gone away, but when Obama was elected, it also became Much brighter and louder. I think older white men got really scared. And so there absolutely is this sense of what is the underlying threat.

On why men are so quiet about the Dobbs decision

Fundamentally, men are scared of women. They're scared of women's bodies. And yes, of course, it takes two to get pregnant. So I think that, yes, men need to speak up.

On gender and the marketplace of books

I never really talk about this. It's a bummer to me, the way in which books are sold to readers by gender. And even the, The Unfolding, somebody said to me. Who do you think this book is for? And I couldn't decide if they meant, who do you think will read it? Who is it rooting for? I didn't even know sort of where to go with that question. Grace Paley was my teacher. And she used to say, Women have always done men the favor of buying their books and reading them. And men have not returned that favor.

I think, for me in particular, that sucks. I'm like, guys, get my book. You'll like it. I promise it won't give you girl cooties.

On whether characters should be “likable”

This notion that we have in contemporary literature where people are like, Am I supposed to like these characters? I think that is so new. I don't care. I'm not writing them for you to like them or not. I'm writing them for you to understand them and to think about how they make you feel and what they make you think about and often to show people the interior world of someone who may be unfamiliar to them.

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Show notes

Buy A.M. Homes’ new novel The Unfolding

Buy A.M. Homes’ The Safety of Objects

Buy A.M.’s memoir The Mistress’s Daughter

Read A.M. Homes’ fictional encounter between Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger

Read about A.M. Homes’ Embrace the Absurd public art project w Laurie Anderson

Visit A.M.’s website and follow her on twitter

A.M.’s book recs:

Buy Randall Keenan’s Black Folk Could Fly

Buy Maria Popova’s Figuring

Buy Henry Hoke’s Open Throat

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